I've been at my job for more than six years, working in a small shop as an office manager. Last year, I was diagnosed with lung cancer and am now in remission. I personally do not smoke, but the owners of the business do, along with every employee except for one – inside the shop, sometimes in the office or right beside the office door. I have asked the owners to stop the smoking. They agree, then continue with no change. I find it difficult to understand why they think this is okay in 2016, where smoking in restaurants and other public places is breaking the law. I feel like I should have the right not to be subjected to second-hand smoke. I want to know what my rights are, or how to persuade them to change their habits. I would really prefer not to quit but they're leaving me no choice.
THE FIRST ANSWER
Billy Anderson Founder of the Courage Crusade, Toronto
The smoking and blatant disregard of your legal rights is bad enough. They seem stuck in the 1960s. The legalities of this scenario are addressed below.
Let's focus on the reality of your situation. You already feel you've made your wishes and concerns crystal clear but they continue to fall on deaf ears. Therefore, I see no other possible outcomes than these two.
1) You continue as you are, and therefore keep getting sicker. But what will be the long-term impact on you and your health? How will that affect your loved ones? Is staying at a job and getting sick more important than the people in your life who care about and potentially depend on you?
2) You bring the law down on your place of work. But then you're stuck working where no one trusts you or wants to have anything to do with you because you're a whistle-blower.
I'm not sure how any job can be worth either of those outcomes. What is it that makes you want to stay there? Change is scary for most people, but sometimes it's required.
It all comes down to values. Do you value your job more than your health? Do you value stability and familiarity more than satisfaction at work?
Every single person – you included – deserves to be happy and feel safe, respected and supported. In my opinion, those rights are just as important as any official legal rights you have.
THE SECOND ANSWER
George Cottrelle Partner at Keel Cottrelle LLP, Toronto
The Smoke-Free Ontario Act, which came into force on May 31, 2006, prohibits smoking in an enclosed public place, or in an enclosed workplace. The act protects workers from the hazards of second-hand smoke.
All employers in Ontario are legally obliged to: ensure compliance with the prohibition on smoking in the enclosed workplace; give notice to each employee in the enclosed workplace that smoking is prohibited; post signs prohibiting smoking throughout the enclosed workplace; remove ashtrays; from the enclosed workplace; and ensure that a person who refuses to comply with the prohibition on smoking does not remain in the enclosed workplace.
Local public health units carry out inspections and investigate workplace complaints under the act. In Toronto, Toronto Public Health enforces the act. Contact Service Ontario (1-866-396-1760), or check the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care's website, if you are not sure whom to contact in your municipality.
An employer is prohibited from penalizing, intimidating, coercing, dismissing, disciplining or suspending an employee, or threatening to do so, because the employee has followed, or has sought enforcement of the act.
If you attempt to have the act complied with, or enforced, and you experience any of the above reprisals by your employer, you may file a complaint with the Ontario Labour Relations Board.
Your employer is in contravention of the act and is legally obligated to provide a smoke-free workplace.
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