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The office manager will often smoke in her office after 5:00 pm while some of us are still working.

The air conditioning carries the smoke into our offices. I have asthma/bronchitis and the smoke makes me choke and cough. It also hurts my eyes and throat. Another person in the office has a heart condition and is not supposed to be exposed to second hand smoke.

It is against the law in our state for anyone to smoke in the office. Several people in the office have gone to the owner of the company and asked that it stop. He has repeatedly asked her to stop but she has not. What can we do?

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    For completeness, what State would that be? I assume you want this to stop but with the minimal fallback and escalation/problems, correct? Also, have you tried to talk to her directly about this? – DarkCygnus Jul 13 '18 at 22:49
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    +1 for state if you're in the US. The office manager could be violating local or state law. – jcmack Jul 14 '18 at 0:34
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    What time do you finish work? Is there some reason you're not leaving at 5? – Kilisi Jul 14 '18 at 5:38
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    "He has repeatedly asked her to stop but she has not." So what exactly is preventing the owner of the company from firing her? – user1602 Jul 15 '18 at 9:31
  • You might consider leaving at 5:00 pm, and making it clear why you're doing so. This doesn't completely address the issue, but it might be a way to apply some leverage. Leaving early could also carry some risks, which you'll have to deal with as you see fit. – Keith Thompson Jun 26 at 1:15
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First, if you haven't already, I'd suggest you speak to her directly about this issue. Sometimes it's better and more effective than just escalating to the owner or superior.

Politely explain to her about the harm this causes to you, and ask her to stop this (or at least go outside to have a smoke).

This would be more effective if you do it with the support of other coworkers that are also uncomfortable or harmed by the second-hand smoke, like your coworker with the heart condition. When she sees that her smoking is impacting several coworkers she will surely reconsider.

If this proves ineffective, even after repeatedly asking her directly, escalating would be the alternative. You say you already have taken this to the owner, whom has asked her to stop doing this. In a way, disciplining this person is responsibility of the owner; you can escalate and also make the owner aware that the problem continues, but it's up to that person to decide what actions to take.

On a more personal note, any decent owner should be aware of the relevance of this situation (both for the legal and health aspects), and should take swift action if the smoking continues. I doubt that this situation will continue indefinitely, as it is likely the owner is close, if not already there, to give her an ultimatum.

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In the UK, according to https://www.gov.uk/smoking-at-work-the-law it is a fine of up to £200 for the smoker, and up to £2,500 for the employer if they don't stop the smoking.

  • Interesting link for the UK case... although as far as I know, the UK is not divided in States... it's most likely this is in the USA, in some state still unspecified by OP – DarkCygnus Jul 16 '18 at 20:49
  • The OP should tell us where this is located. In California, there is a $100 fine for the first offense, $200 for the second offense within one year and a $500 fine for the third and each subsequent violation in one year. If the smoking causes an asthma attack, then in theory, OSHA may get involved and the fine per incident can get astronomical. calrest.org/customers/smoking-and-hospitality-industry – Stephan Branczyk Jul 17 '18 at 18:04
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Some of the existing answers take the approach of convincing the smoker to just wait until everyone who is sensitive to smoke has gone home. That's not enough -- even if the smoker only smokes when they are alone in the office, the smoke gets into everything and can cause problems for sensitive people the next day or in the longer term. (It can also cause long term damage to computers and other office equipment.)

In any case, it doesn't matter -- it's illegal to smoke in the office. Period. It's an OSHA violation, it may cause problems with insurance, and more and more, society sees it as just plain rude.

I'd put it in email so there is a paper trail:

Firstname:

Please don't smoke in the office in the evenings. In addition to it being illegal, bad for the computers, and probably a violation of the fire insurance policy, it's directly affecting the health of several of your co-workers.

Please step outside to take your smoke breaks in the evening, as you already do during the day; we know it's inconvenient, but your smoking is inconveniencing everyone else, especially those who are still in the office and directly exposed to your second-hand smoke.

Thanks!

YourFirstName (and on behalf of other members of the OfficeName team.)

If that letter doesn't make the office smoking stop (and it is unlikely to, as you said the owner has already tried), then you can follow up with a letter to the owner (forwarding a copy of the first email, and any email response the smoker is unwise enough to send) where you request that he address the conditions in the office, mentioning how many times you and others have already spoken to him about the problem.

I know you have tried before to address this issue, but it's helpful to get a paper trail of this long-standing problem before you file a complaint with OSHA or your state regulatory agency.

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You mention that she does this after 6. Assuming she has been in the office all day, it's likely she's waiting until she thinks it's ok to smoke. All you need to do is convince her to wait a little longer. Perhaps she waits until the boss is gone and she won't be caught, or until one particular employee who she knows has health issues with it is gone. You need to know which it is, and this is best done by asking her.

The moment you smell that smoke, stop by her office or use a chat app if that's what your office uses, and ask "how come you smoke in here in the evenings?" If you want, you can add "it really affects my breathing" or the like. Depending on the answer, you could then say something like

Well, if you smoke while I am here, I'm going to email the boss and report it, because I was told the boss had arranged for there to be no smoking when I'm working

or

Well, just because X has gone home doesn't mean nobody is hurt by the smoke. I am, for example

Either way, try to end on a positive note like

I would really appreciate if you could wait until I am also gone. If you like, I can let you know when I'm headed out.

And then smile. You have control here because you know the boss doesn't want this happening. You're offering her a way to get some of what she wants (smoking after you leave.)

Should you mention the heart condition person? I wouldn't at first. It could trigger a sense of being ganged up on. If your approach works, you can just repeat it for the other person.

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    "All you need to do is convince her to wait a little longer." This would seem to imply that there's a time when it's OK to smoke in the office. Given that the particles coat everything and the smell lingers, I'd say there's never an appropriate time to smoke in the office unless one is the only inhabitant or one only works with other smokers. And that's leaving aside the issue that it's illegal... – user1602 Jul 30 '18 at 12:19
  • While your point isn't wrong, the OP doesn't object to coming in the morning after the manager has been smoking, just to being there while it happens. Some people would, and I would write a different answer for them. – Kate Gregory Jul 30 '18 at 13:03

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