The use of e-cigarettes in the workplace is presenting a difficult challenge for many HR professionals.  The question is: should you treat them in the same way as traditional cigarettes or put in place different rules for their use?

As many of you will remember, smoking indoors at work buildings and other enclosed spaces in England became unlawful on 1 July 2007. However, the use of e-cigarettes in these places by people who are trying to quit smoking, falls outside the scope of current smoke-free legislation.  It is the individual employer who has the power to decide whether or not their employees can ‘vape’ in the workplace.

The good news is that, as e-cigarettes have grown in popularity lately, traditional smoking is at an all-time low. However, it’s still hard to know if e-cigarettes should be allowed in the workplace as their effects remain unclear.

On the one hand, encouraging your employees to switch to e-cigarettes, could potentially help them cut down or even give up smoking altogether.  However, there are a number of things to consider.

Can we ignore the possibility that sending your e-smokers out with the other smokers potentially encourages them to start smoking again?

In addition, we also need to consider that while e-cigarettes are widely recognised as being less harmful than conventional cigarettes, the vapour they emit contains nicotine and other toxic particles. Therefore, if you allow the use of e-cigarettes, are you putting your non-smoker employees at risk? And does it give the impression to your employees, customers and visitors that it’s acceptable to smoke?

It’s a tough task to get the balance right.  As HR professionals, it’s our responsibility to safeguard all our employees but at the same time, we should support those who want to cut down or give up smoking in pursuit of a healthier lifestyle.

As you cannot rely on current smoking legislation or your existing smoking rules to control the use of e-cigarettes, it’s essential that you put in place a written policy to deal with the issues e-cigarettes are going to raise…

It’s important to let your employees know what is and is not allowed. Therefore you need to make sure that your policy is communicated effectively. And remember that any smoke-free policy, whether it extends to e-cigarettes or not, should apply to employees of all levels and to third parties such as customers, visitors and contractors.

Unfortunately there’s still insufficient evidence to support the safety of long-term use of e-cigarettes or how effective they actually are in helping smokers quit traditional cigarettes, therefore, a well-considered e-cigarette policy is a must.

By Claire Soutar, Head of HR, Foster Denovo