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We’re breathing second-hand smoke from the business next door

THE QUESTION

Is it an employer's responsibility to provide a smoke-free workspace – even if the cigarette smoke is entering our workplace from an adjoining business? If the company fails to take on this obligation, what is my recourse?

THE FIRST ANSWER

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Greg Conner

Executive director of human resources, BC Transit, Victoria

First of all, this is not your fight, so if you come across smokers not following posted "No smoking" notices, please do not engage them directly.

Enforcement varies from province to province, but let's start with your employer, and by extension, your landlord.

They have responsibility to make sure you are protected from second-hand smoke and that generally means there is no smoking at least nine metres from any entrance or air intake.

Report infractions to your employer and ask that they deal with the matter, through either established municipal or provincial channels.

It is not just a matter of inconsiderate behaviour; for some workers with sensitivities such as asthma, it may have an immediate impact on their health. That also means occupational health and safety regulations come into play, and that legislation has teeth, no matter the jurisdiction. That in of itself should spur your employer into action.

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Social pariahs though our nicotine-addicted colleagues may be, however, I would like to think we should have some small sympathy for their plight.

Creating a smoking zone with some shelter that meets your province's minimum-distance standards from entrances is generally not hard to do and it gives smokers a legitimate place to go when the urge hits them. Failure to provide such space will see them either ignoring anti-smoking bylaws or ranging further afield to get their nicotine fix, affecting their productivity to an even greater extent.

THE SECOND ANSWER

Bruce Sandy

Principal, Pathfinder Coaching and Consulting, Vancouver

Speak to your employer about this situation. Hopefully, your employer will be able to persuade the owner of the adjoining business to put in an appropriate air-filtration system.

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If the neighbouring business refuses to do anything, then your employer can appeal to the local chamber of commerce for help regarding being good business neighbours and resolving the situation.

If your employer is unwilling to do this, then you can speak to the owner or manager of the adjacent business, point out the problem and ask what they will do.

If you work in a unionized environment, you can ask your local union representative for help in persuading your employer to take on this situation. This may also be an appropriate situation to refer to the occupational health and safety committee, if your employer has one.

You, your union, your health and safety committee representative or your employer can file a claim or complaint with your provincial workers' compensation board. The board will then send a representative to conduct air-quality testing in the workplace and make appropriate recommendations to the other business and/or your employer on the responsibility and the appropriate steps to remediate the situation. (Your employer may have to hire a lawyer if the neighbouring business does not comply.)

You and your fellow staff members can also hire a lawyer to try to resolve the situation and make any claims for damages you may have suffered in a class-action civil lawsuit against the other business owner and/or your employer.

Got a burning issue at work? Need help navigating that mine field? Let our Nine To Five experts help solve your dilemma. E-mail your questions to ninetofive@globeandmail.com

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