Posted: May 25th, 2022
Old Smoke Case Study
Darlene works for Redwood Associates in the personnel department. However, at times her job requires her to spend time in the main files room, where Frank and Alice work. Frank and Alice are smokers, but are always careful not to smoke around Darlene, and to open the windows and air the room out. Nevertheless, Darlene is sensitive to the odor of stale smoke, some days more than others. On a particular Monday morning, Darlene was not feeling well, and had to work in the file room. Over the weekend, the odor of smoke settled, and despite airing the room out, to her it reeked of smoke. This prompted her to exclaim to her supervisor that she simply could not work in that room. This was unfortunate, because her supervisor needed a report that required working in the file room. The supervisor, Charles, was left in a conundrum legally, morally, and operationally.
Situational Overview- Tobacco products are a controversial, but powerful, product in the contemporary world. Up to 1/3 of the global adult population uses some form of tobacco on a regular basis, yet it believed to cause over 5 million deaths per year. In developing countries, largely due to stricter laws and bans on advertising, smoking has leveled off — however, in developing countries the number of active smokers has risen each year over the past two decades (Tobacco Facts, 2006). The laws in most states prohibit smoking in the workplace, in an enclosed structure, particularly. The rationale is that smoking is option (a choice) but breathing is not. Smoking bans exist, then, to protect people from second-hand smoke and the smell of smoke that many find nauseating. Research has shown that second-hand smoke is as dangerous as smoking, as well as odors having the potential to cause headaches, nausea, runny nose, or other illnesses (Danoff, 2011).
However, the State in which Redwood is located does not appear to have a strict non-smoking ban, relying on the good judgment and empathy of workers and supervisors to find a mitigating situation that works for most employees.
Part 1 — Handling Situation – There are two concurrent forces present in this scenario. The first is that there is an immediate need for a report that requires a person to retrieve files from the room with smoke odors. The second is a larger issue: the need for a company policy on smoking that is utilitarian in its approach. We might view these two situations as tactical (what needs solved today) and strategic (what needs solved as part of a future company plan).
Tactical — There is an immediate need for report data. Because Darlene is adamant about not going into the file room, then perhaps Alice or Frank could retrieve the needed files for her and she can work at her desk or in another room. This might double up the number of people working on the project, but it might also ensure that the project gets finished much quicker. As quickly as possible (hopefully that day), Charles should authorize the purchase of a professional level air cleaner with a built in HEPA filter and ionizer. Many of these can be purchased for less than $200 and are effective in rooms up to 1,000 square feet. Charles could also ask the custodial services to use a product similar to Fabreze that neutralizes odors on metal, paper products, etc. Until a policy is developed, Charles should ask Alice and Frank not to smoke inside the building, using the approach that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few in a professional working environment. This does not really infringe on their rights, because there is no guaranteed “right” to smoke at a workplace; just as there might be a dress code, jewelry/piercing policy, etc.
Strategic — This is a tad bit more difficult for Charles as it seems that only 2 employees smoke. The cost of constructing a smoking lounge would likely be prohibitive, and when Charles has discussions with the company’s legal team, he finds that most states ban smoking X number of feet from the building and do not allow any smoking in any building that is public or the public may have access to. To be politically sensitive, Charles could put together a short research questionnaire about the subject, then tally the results to help with the decision. However, most work laws require employers to be more sensitive to any dangers within the workplace that have the potential for harming anyone. If the copier, for instance, leaked some type of toner and had an odor, that might be cause for alarm, too. Charles should get the data from the survey, HR, Legal, and research from like-sized companies and develop a smoking policy for Redwood. In all likelihood, this policy would ban smoking anywhere inside the building, and thus require Alice and Frank to adapt.
Part 2 — Policy on Smoking Recommendations – Smoking has been proven to be harmful — primary and secondary. It is therefore Redwood’s moral and legal responsibility to protect their employees and clients from anything harmful. Sidestream smoke, and smoking by-products, have at least 70 known carcinogens. Smoking bans considerably improve the air quality in the work environment, and have also been shown to improve employee respiratory issues, as well as lower absenteeism based on illness. Improvement of air-quality by putting more air-cleaners into the workplace would also translate to a rapid decrease of toxins from the environment among employees, the negative ions a fresher, cleaner environment that has also been proven to be invigorating to most people (Indoor Air Quality, 2004; Negative Ions, 2010).
Part 3 — Case changes if perfume or body odor- The reality is that we now live in a rather litigious society in which there is a tremendous amount of controversy and perception about the rights of the individual within society. Much of this harkens back to a philosophical viewpoint called utilitarianism. Utilitarianism holds that the most ethical thing one can do is any action that will maximize the happiness within an organization or society. Actions have quantitative outcomes and the ethical choices that lead to the “greatest good for the greatest number” are the appropriate decisions, even if that means subsuming the rights of certain individuals (Troyer, 2006, 256-62). A company has a moral responsibility to ensure that its employees are able to come to work in a safe environment in which there is a level playing field, in which offensive situations are minimized, and in which they can actualize. Whether the situation be offensive perfume, body odor, lewd pictures, and inappropriate remarks; if it prevents individuals from a comfortable and professional environment, it must be dealt with appropriately. Again, there are tactical and strategic actions for these types of issues. Tactically, while potentially embarrassing and uncomfortable, the HR manager or first-line supervisor should have a private meeting with the person with the offensive (in this case odor) behavior and suggest politely that he/she uses less cologne because some people are sensitive to it, or perhaps is unaware that unintentional body odors can make other individuals uncomfortable. Tact and empathy are key here. However, the legal door has almost been opened in which individuals can litigate odors within their work environment if the employer is unwilling to resolve the situation (Co-Workers Can Sue, 2009).
Part 4 — Situational analysis for smoking bans in parking lots and cars – Smoking policy is trending to the adoption of a 100% smoking ban at work, in the surrounding grassy areas, parking lots, and, in effect, all the “campus” areas. The legal theory behind this is that second-hand smoke wafts through the environment, and despite all good intentions, can be picked up and a danger to others. No one forces anyone to smoke, and if the addiction is serious enough that nicotine patches, gum, etc. cannot control the urge, then the employee might consider seeking outside professional help with the addiction. Since a person’s car is private property, however, it is unlikely that any non-smoking ban would extend to that area. However, the smoker would need to take steps to ensure that their clothing and work supplies did no retain the odor of smoke. In essence, other than in the privacy of one’s own car and home, thus any place that one could potentially harm someone else with smoke, is legally favoring the non-smoker (Grensing-Pophal, 1999).
Co-Workers Can Sue Over Excessive Perfume in the Workplace. (28 August 2009). Godlike
Productions. Retrieved from: http://www.godlikeproductions.com/forum1/message869754/pg1
Indoor Air Quality in Hospitality Venues Before and After Implementation of a Clean Indoor Air
Law. (12 November 2004). Center for Disease Control — MMWR. Retrieved from: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5344a3.htm
Negative Ions: More Scientific Research. (2010). Comtech Research. Retrieved from:
Tobacco Facts,” (2006) Tobacco Truths. Retrieved from:
Danoff, R. (2011). The Smell of Tobacco Smoke. MSN Health. Retrieved from:
Grensing-Pophal, L. (1999). Smokin’ in the workplace — disadvantages of allowing smoking in The workplace. HR Magazine/Find Articles. Retrieved from: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m3495/is_5_44/ai_54711191/
Troyer, J. (2003). The Classic Utiltarians — Benthem and Mill. New York: Hackett
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