Ban Smoking at the Office? Check. Ban Smoking at Home? Wait, What?

Thankfully, smoking inside the office went out of fashion years ago, but now that many people are working from home, can you ban smoking at home during business hours?

The largest Japanese brokerage firm, Nomura, implemented a new policy prohibiting employees from smoking during the workday, even when they are working from home.

According to the Financial Times, some employees feel like this is an attempt to get rid of smoking breaks. But, whatever the reason, it’s super weird and super intrusive. But, could you do it with your business in the US?

If it’s not prohibited by law, go right ahead.

Legislatures haven’t made laws detailing all the dumb things you shouldn’t do, and, for the most part, prohibiting employees from smoking while working at home has not been prohibited. Of course, it gets a bit sticky because 29 states have smokers’ rights laws.

Employment attorney Jon Hyman, a partner with Wickens Herzer Panza, says you probably “could” except in states that prohibit discrimination against smokers. Still, he askes, how are you going to enforce it. “Unless you’re installing cameras in an employee’s home to watch how they are spending their time, how will know if an employee lights up during working hours. And, if you are going to go so far as to install those cameras and actively monitor?”

Employment attorney Daniel A. Schwartz, a partner with Shipman & Goodman LLP, concurs: “Policies like this one seem within the realm that employers can do. Most state laws only prohibit employers from regulating smoking outside working time. As such, employers need to consider whether they “should” do this versus “can.””

So, as a general rule, you can, but these two employment attorneys both would not advise their employees to do so. 

It’s a job hunter’s market.

The “Great Resignation” is in full swing. If you follow Nomura’s example, what will happen to your recruitment and retention strategies? Granted, there are fewer smokers per capita in the US than in Japan, but at 17.25 percent of adults, that’s a pretty large number of people.

But, it’s not just the smokers that such a policy would turn off. I don’t smoke, yet, I wouldn’t want to work for a company that wants to tell me what I can or cannot do in my own home. I would find it far too invasive. And as Attorney Hyman points out, how will you monitor this?

Smoking wastes time and costs companies money, but this is a cure worse than the disease.

There is no question that smoking is bad for you. You’re even allowed to charge smokers more for their health insurance if you have a wellness plan–but that doesn’t actually help people quit smoking.

Treating smokers who take time to smoke differently than people who step away, get a snack, check the mail, or do a load of laundry, is unlikely to increase productivity. And, if your remote workers are salaried exempt (not eligible for overtime payments), you should only be looking at their success and not how many times they step away from their work.

You’d probably be better off supporting smokers who want to quit.

The one reasonable thing about a smoking ban

The one aspect of this type of ban that I can get behind is no smoking around company equipment. Smoking is not only bad for the lungs; it’s bad for computers. Telling your employees they can’t smoke around company equipment may mean they don’t have much time for a smoke break, but it isn’t nearly as intrusive as saying you can’t smoke in your own home.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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