How do I protect myself from secondhand smoke at work?

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Question:

If OSHA won't protect me from secondhand tobacco smoke at work, is there anything I can do to limit or avoid exposure?

Answer:

If your health problems are severely aggravated by coworkers' smoking, there are a number of steps you can take.

  • Check local and state laws. A growing number prohibit or restrict smoking in the workplace. Most of them also set out specific procedures for pursuing complaints. Find your state's laws in Nolo's article, Workplace Smoking Laws in Your State. Your state's labor or employment department should also have up-to-date information about these laws.
  • Ask your employer for an accommodation. Successful accommodations to smoke-sensitive workers may include installing additional ventilation systems, restricting smoking to outside areas or special rooms, and segregating smokers and nonsmokers.
  • Consider filing a federal complaint. Most claims for injuries caused by secondhand smoke in the workplace are brought under the Americans with Disabilities Act. In the strongest complaints, workers proved that smoke sensitivity is a disability that the employer must accommodate because it prevents them from performing a major life activity: breathing freely.
  • Look into income replacement programs. If you're unable to work out a plan to resolve a serious problem with workplace smoke, you may be forced to leave the workplace. But you may qualify for workers' compensation or unemployment insurance benefits.

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