“Some of our employees have started to use ecigarettes at their desks and while some line managers do not mind this, others want to stamp it out. What can we do? Can we ban ecigarettes in the office?”
Tina Ranales-Cotos, barrister at Kings Chambers, says:
The short answer is yes, you can ban them but you are not required to do so by law. Electronic cigarettes are tobacco free devices and do not break the law in terms of the 2007 smoking ban.
The battery-powered sticks, similar in appearance to real cigarettes,contain the addictive ingredient nicotine and other chemicals which are vaporised, inhaled and emitted as an odour-free but visible vapour. At present these devices are not regulated in the UK but they will be licensed as medicines from 2016. In the meantime, their increased popularity has become an increasingly divisive issue for employers who have a duty towards all employees– including those who might find the vapour irritating or distracting. Court rulings dating back before the smoking ban can offer guidance in the absence of legislation. Such case law makes it clear that employers are entitled to make rules for the conduct of employees in the workplace. The issue must be tackled to avoid grievances and a business-wide consultation is the best place to start. If the result is that a ban is considered the way forward, you must be sure to update any existing no-smoking and disciplinary policies clearly and explicitly to include ecigarettes.
Finally, be consistent in terms of applying these policies and keep the matter under review.
This article first appeared in the Financial Times on 6 February 2014: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/87445c96-8365-11e3-aa65-00144feab7de.html#axzz2sWl