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I just started a new paralegal job, which I'm really excited about. This represents a career change for me. But I have a big problem.

I work closely with one person, let's call her J. When I went for my interview it was in the morning, and I didn't notice any smell of cigarette smoke in the office or when J. was near me. She didn't mention to me that she smokes.

However, on the job, I learned that J. steps out for cigarette breaks outdoors and brings the smell of cigarette smoke back in with her on her clothes. As the day progresses and she starts to feel the pressure of work, the frequency of the smoke breaks increases and the smell gets worse.

The smell really bothers me. Some of this is subjective, but some is based on observations I've made in the past, that when I'm exposed in this way, I often tend to come down with a respiratory infection, which includes laryngitis, and then I miss some work days (sometimes as much as ten days), and I have a hard time functioning in general.

We don't share an office. Our offices are adjoining. If I could convince her to talk to me on the phone, and to use screenshots sent back and forth via email or stored in our networked file sharing system, I think I might be okay.

There is an air purifier in a third person's office and I think that moving it into J.'s office would be helpful.

On the morning of the first day of work, the head person in the office (the one who has an air purifier in his office) had J. and me meet with him to talk over some logistics of the job. At that time, J. informed me of her custom of taking smoke breaks but emphasized that she never smokes inside. I said I was glad to hear that she always goes outside, given that I am, as I said, "violently allergic to cigarette smoke." So, they both are aware of my sensitivity.

I've had an irritated throat for the last few days and even after two days of rest and clean air at home, I have the feeling that my body is struggling with this, and that the jury is still out as to whether the Tuesday, Thursday and Friday exposure last week is going to put me down for the count. Especially with the new exposure coming up this week.

I don't know if I have any rights about this, but even if I do, it seems too early to bring up my rights. This firm consists solely of the owner of the air purifier, J, and me.

Any suggestions for how to handle this would be much appreciated.

I haven't counted the smoke breaks exactly, but I'd guess there are two in the morning and five in the afternoon.

I live in the U.S., specifically, upstate New York. I checked what the local health department has published on the subject and have not found that J. is breaking any local ordinance by smoking next to the front or back door.

I'm thinking that air purifier might be my salvation, if I can just get her to stop visiting my desk to collaborate about projects we're working on together, when she's just come back in.

Edit: More precise information about the layout: There is a long hallway with a front door and a back door. My desk is in a widened part of the hallway, about 2/5 of the way back, opposite the door to the conference room. The first room as one enters the office is the one that currently has the air purifier in it. The second one is J's. (The third is the conference room.) When everyone is in the office, all the doors are open. But as you can see, my office does not have walls or doors. I'm not sure how effective the air purifier would be in my area, but I'm game to try.

marked as duplicate by David K, gnat, Lumberjack, Rory Alsop, Snow Mar 13 '18 at 6:37

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

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    Do you have some kind of medical evidence that you are allergic to cigarette smoke? In my experience smokers tend to dislike that word and you'd have better luck with describing it as an "extreme sensitivity" unless you can back it up. (Not that you should have to but that's how things usually go). Secondly, is your position one where moving all interaction with this coworker online can be done without noticeable impact on anyone? Thirdly, you shouldn't delay bringing up your rights just because you're new (the opposite in fact) but sadly in a company of this size you probably don't have any. – Lilienthal Mar 12 '18 at 14:26
  • And since I ran out of space: what conversation have you had with your coworker or manager about this before? What language have you used so far? – Lilienthal Mar 12 '18 at 14:27
  • @Lilienthal - I included in the question the conversation we had so far on this topic. // I could get a letter from my doctor if it would help, but when I described my issue to them I wasn't asked for one. I'm concerned that if I present a letter at this point, it might make things look more adversarial than I intend, and also it might make them wonder why I might think a letter might be needed (don't I think they trust me to accurately report my health situation). // To clarify, I don't want all conversations to go online. I want to be able to talk with J by phone when she brings her... – aparente001 Mar 12 '18 at 17:50
  • fresh aura in; and after it has hopefully dissipated somewhat then I'm happy to have mutual desk visits. The smell doesn't seem to be as strong when she's not JUST back from outside. – aparente001 Mar 12 '18 at 17:52
  • Thanks for the additional info. It seems your question was closed as a duplicate and while there's some useful information on the linked post, I think you can argue that you're asking a more specific question on how to essentially delay face-to-face interaction with a coworker right after their smoke break. If you want to allow people to submit additional answers you can edit your post further and perhaps but that core goal at the top in bold and that will put your question in a reopen queue. That air purifier is also a valid question though I'm not sure there's a good way to involve that. – Lilienthal Mar 13 '18 at 8:12

Assuming J. is a reasonable person, which you will have to judge for yourself, then I suggest you have a simply talk to her. Dont be confrontational or demanding, simply and clearly state your problem and propose a solution.

You said:

I'm thinking that air purifier might be my salvation, if I can just get her to stop visiting my desk to collaborate about projects we're working on together, when she's just come back in.

As a former smoker, I can say I would have had no issue with someone asking me to wait a certain amount of time before I interacted with them, especially if they explained they were allergic. Smokers are well aware that their habits are disliked by others and for the most part are accommodating to those who dont smoke.

However, asking for an air purifier to be put in her office... That, in my opinion, is crossing a line. That is her space, not yours.

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    I agree asking her to put an air purifier in her room is crossing a line. Perhaps OP could get an air purifier for his own room, though? – Steve-O Mar 12 '18 at 13:35
  • @Steve-O true. I would love to put an air purifier in the office of some old coworkers who wore to much perfume or cologne. – Keltari Mar 12 '18 at 16:21
  • Maybe put the purifier in your space. That seems to make the most sense to me. But I do feel for you. I worked with a smoker one time and I was miserable. But we shared a small office and it was very confining. – Bill Leeper Mar 12 '18 at 18:20

Your colleague smokes outside and never inside, so she is doing her best to don't bother her colleagues with her habit and to obey the law.

I think that, before pushing her to change, you could ask for an air purifier to be installed in your office, too, as you have already made clear that you are allergic to smoke.

On her side, she could start wearing a smoking jacket when she takes her break, so that the smoke would not stitch on her office clothes, reducing the polluting load she takes inside. But, being this not prescribed by any law or regulation, it may be harder to enforce.

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    I worked with a smoker in a small confined space. They smoked outside, but there was always a lingering bit of smoke. Worst 3 months ever until we moved to a new less confined office. – Bill Leeper Mar 12 '18 at 18:19

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