Does my employer have to offer a smoking area?

Question:

I just started a new job, and the company I work for doesn't have a smoking area, indoors or outdoors. I'm used to not being able to smoke at my desk or in common areas, but my last employer had a designated smoking patio for smokers. Here, I have to leave the building whenever I want to smoke. Is this legal? Don't they have to accommodate my right to smoke?

Answer:

The laws about smoking -- at work, on airplanes, in restaurants, and even in public outdoor spaces, like parks and sports arenas -- have undergone a radical transformation in the last few decades. It was once perfectly acceptable for employees to chain smoke at their desks, behind their cash registers, or on the shop floor. That's no longer the case.

These days, almost every state allows employers to ban smoking completely from the workplace. In fact, many states require it. Some states still allow employers to create a separate smoking space, but the rules for those spaces can be very complicated. They might have to be separately ventilated, for example, or located in an area that no employee has to enter for work reasons.

Some states also regulate outdoor areas near work areas. For example, state law might prohibit outdoor smoking within a certain distance of doors and windows. Many cities and counties have created similar bans. In fact, local governments have been the most active in regulating smoking.

To find out what your state law requires, select it from the list at Workplace Smoking Laws in Your State. Contact your local government offices to find out any applicable city or county rules. Chances are good that you'll find your employer's decision to prohibit smoking at work is perfectly legal, and perhaps even required by law.

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