When an employer tries to ban employees from smoking even in their own cars on their unpaid breaks, smokers often feel persecuted and wonder whether their company can get away with doing this. The answer depends on where the car is parked and what state the company operates in, but the answer is often "yes."
No Smoke Break for You
Some employers ban all employees from smoking during the work day, even when on break, usually in an attempt to lower insurance costs by improving employee health and wellness. Hospitals have been leaders in this trend toward banning the smoke break in the name of promoting a health-oriented culture in the workplace to match hospitals' health care mission. In 2013, all 63,000 workers at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center were informed that smoking on breaks would be banned, even if employees left the hospital for lunch. An employee smoking a cigarette in her own car away from the hospital's property could be disciplined under this ban.
Although the UPMC smoking ban was legal in Pennsylvania, it would not have been legal in the District of Columbia or the 29 states with "smoker's rights" laws on the books as of 2012. These laws do not allow employers to interfere with employees who smoke on their own time or property. However, this would not protect employees who wish to smoke in their cars in the company's parking lot.
Take It Somewhere Else
Even in states that protect employees from sweeping bans on smoking, the parking lot of the business is still considered company property. The employer does have the legal right to declare all of its property a "smoke-free zone." That means the employer can ban smoking in company-owned vehicles, or in employee-owned vehicles parked on property owned or leased by the company. In this situation, the employee could still smoke in his car by driving off the employer's property before lighting up.
Not Even In Your Own Driveway
In states with no legislation protecting "smoker's rights," companies are legally permitted to refuse to hire smokers, to ban current employees from smoking even when at home or any other place, and to test employees for the presence of nicotine byproducts in the bloodstream and fire those who test positive. Employees of a company with this type of policy would not be allowed to smoke, even if they were in their own car driving down the highway. However, an article on these types of policies in USA Today notes that programs designed to help employees quit smoking are more effective than bans.
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