I work at a warehouse with four managers, most of whom smoke inside the building. I’ve stayed quiet because I’ve seen others complain about the smoking and they get fired (for “other” reasons). These guys really protect their workplace smoking perk. But now I’m pregnant and the second-hand smoke is making me feel ill. I can’t tell any work safety group because I’ll get fired. I can’t sue for wrongful dismissal because I’ll never get hired in the industry again. I also can’t tell them I’m pregnant because they will plot to replace or fire me, hiding it under “other” reasons.
I hold a something over my nose to walk through their smoke, which upsets them, yet, they won’t smoke outside. I feel wronged, angry, frustrated and helpless. Any advice?
THE FIRST ANSWER
Vice-president, human resources, League Financial Partners, Victoria
My first reaction was this cannot be happening in Canada in this day and age, so perhaps if you click your heels together and chant “ there is no place like home...”
Did that work? Sadly, probably not, so more drastic measures are required. I understand your fear of losing your job and the possibility of never working in your industry again should you raise a complaint, but frankly, you have no choice. You have to stop this for the baby’s sake and that means today, not tomorrow.
It has been decades since workplaces have become smoke-free and every province and territory has laws and regulations to protect workers’ safety and rights to a smoke-free environment. You cannot be harassed, nor fired, for exercising those rights. You have exhausted your local options – appealing to your manager – so You have to take that next step and report this to your provincial workplace health and safety office. Or, you can let your manager know you are pregnant and see if that fixes the issue; if not, you then have to make an official complaint immediately. The fines for breaking the law are substantial. While the absentee owners may be willing to overlook their employees breaking the law, if challenged, their concern for their wallets would ensure they direct your smoking colleagues to be compliant, as fines are substantial.
Given the connection between your complaint and your employment, you should take comfort that any action on their part to harass, intimidate or terminate you as a result of your coming forward to protect you, your baby, and your nonsmoking colleagues would, in my experience, be dealt with harshly. A number of venues are open to you if something untoward happens (workplace safety, employment standards, and human rights tribunals). Advise your managers and the company owners. You may also want to look for another job; people who care so little about the welfare of others are not the kind of people you want to work with long term.
THE SECOND ANSWER
Founder, Made You Think Coaching, Toronto
There is only one question here: Is it more important for you and your baby to be healthy, or for you to avoid ruffling feathers and maybe losing your job?
You’re making some pretty big assumptions: you’ll be fired if you complain or if they find out you’re pregnant, and you’ll never be hired again if you sue. Perhaps you’re right, but in my experience a company is playing with fire if it dismisses someone who is pregnant.
Do you even want to work at a place where you feel disrespected? A place where you feel that expecting a baby is a dirty secret rather than something to celebrate? Perhaps this is a perfect excuse to polish your résumé and make those human chimneys a part of your past.
You could approach the workplace safety issue cautiously. Make it about you, not them. For example, “I’m concerned about my health and I am wondering if there is any way I can avoid all the cigarette smoke. Do you have any suggestions?” That sounds less like a complaint and the answer will give you an indication of how things will go.
You can also talk to a lawyer. Some provinces have a lawyer referral service, where you can get initial advice for as low as $10.
Here are my two favourite questions to ask yourself when you’re struggling with a decision like this. First, What advice would you give someone else in this situation? Second, if you had an endless amount of courage, how would this be different?
Are you facing a burning issue at work? Need help navigating that minefield? Let our Nine To Five experts help solve your dilemma. E-mail your questions to email@example.com. Confidentiality ensured. Weigh in with your view at tgam.ca/careers. Check out past columns here.