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Smoking in the Workplace and Workers' Compensation

Secondhand smoke is both annoying and dangerous. If you are a non-smoker and environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) at work has made you sick, you may be entitled to workers' compensation benefits. Employees can obtain compensation benefits if they show that ETS in their workplace caused medical problems. These benefits can help cover the costs of medical treatment related to your illness.

The Department of Labor recognizes the importance of employee health and safety. This has lead to:

  • Stricter regulations on smoking areas
  • Promotion of smoke-free workplaces

Employers must have policies in place to protect employees from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke. This ensures a healthier and safer work environment for all.

Read on to learn more about your rights regarding workers' compensation for ETS exposure in your place of employment.

Environmental Tobacco Smoke

ETS, also known as secondhand smoke, has become an acknowledged health risk. The Surgeon General agrees that ETS contains almost all the same toxins and carcinogens found in smoke inhaled by the smoker. 

Exposure to ETS can cause or aggravate a variety of medical problems, often the same ones associated with smoking itself. These include lung cancer, heart disease, and other adverse health effects. Health hazards can come from both traditional tobacco products and e-cigarettes. Both emit harmful chemicals and particles into the air.

Organizations like the Environmental Protection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control recognize the significant public health implications of ETS exposure. As a result, more employers are adopting clean indoor air policies. These policies aim to protect individuals from the dangers of tobacco use in indoor environments.

Smoke-Free Workplace Policies

Smoke-free policies at work are common across the United States. Both state laws and local government ordinances provide the basis for these policies. Many states, like New Jersey and New York, have comprehensive smoking bans to promote a safe workplace environment. 

These laws aim to protect employees from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke. They also contribute to workplace safety. Employers must enforce smoking policies that adhere to state and local laws. This ensures that indoor spaces remain free from tobacco use.

Employers may need to provide reasonable accommodations for employees who smoke. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), accommodations are necessary for individuals who have a disability related to their ability to quit smoking. This could include providing designated smoking areas for those who require accommodations.

ETS Exposure as an Occupational Illness

Recovery of benefits based upon exposure to ETS depends upon the circumstances. Each state has specific requirements. In general, the employee must show a disease or injury caused by the conditions of the worksite. The employee must also prove there's a direct connection to on-the-job duties or responsibilities. An illness or injury that meets these criteria is known as an occupational disease.

Employees claiming that they had suffered a work-related injury because of ETS were not often successful in the past. Claims of occupational disease failed because exposure to smoke was not connected to the person's on-the-job responsibilities, but this is no longer the case.

Recent Trends in ETS Workers' Compensation Claims

Employees have had increased success collecting workers' compensation benefits for illnesses caused by ETS exposure. A common sense approach is being used to consider whether or not ETS has caused an accidental injury. A condition that develops from long-term gradual exposure to second smoke is considered an accidental injury. This is because the employee's illness is unexpected.

Concentrated ETS exposure in the workplace is now being deemed peculiar or characteristic of the work. Working in such an environment can be deemed to have a connection to work responsibilities.

Employees are also having greater success with occupational disease claims. This is because there is a greater understanding of the relationship between ETS and illness in those exposed to it. As a result, the number of states awarding workers' compensation benefits for second smoke-related injuries continues to grow.

Making a Workers' Compensation Claim for ETS Exposure

Your employer may now pay workers' compensation benefits for more situations involving injuries from ETS. If you can't work at all, your employer may have to provide workers' compensation benefits. 

If you need a smoke-free work environment, your employer has two choices. They must either accommodate your needs or pay you benefits. If your working environment contains exposure to ETS and it is making you ill, you may be entitled to workers' compensation benefits.

Your ability to collect workers' compensation benefits because of exposure to secondhand smoke had a better chance to succeed if you can show the following:

  • Sensitivity to secondhand smoke
  • Diagnosis of a medical condition caused or aggravated by secondhand smoke
  • Medical confirmation of the relationship between secondhand smoke and your illness
  • Significant exposure to secondhand smoke in the workplace
  • You share your daily working environment with smokers
  • Minimal ETS exposure outside of work

ETS-related injuries are no joking matter. If you're exposed to ETS and feel ill, see a medical professional sooner rather than later.

Legal Help for Exposure to Smoke in the Workplace

Have you suffered an illness because of exposure to ETS at work? You may be entitled to compensation under your state's workers' compensation laws. Consider reaching out to a workers' compensation attorney near you. An attorney can assist you in receiving all the benefits provided by workers' compensation laws in your state.

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