Worker Should Clear Up Issue of Smoky Office

Question: I just started working for a new company and found there is a chain smoker in the office, which has no ventilation. I'm afraid I'll get fired if I tell my bosses that I can't work in such a smoky environment. What do you suggest I do about a chain smoker in the same office and an employer not willing to do anything about it?

--V.C., Anaheim

Answer: There is no general legal requirement that an employer control the smoking habits of its employees, unless smoking poses a safety hazard in a particular work location or if another employee has a medical intolerance for tobacco smoke. However, there is no reason for you to continue working in discomfort. First, try to discuss the problem with the smoker--most smokers do not want to make nonsmokers uncomfortable.

If that does not work or if you feel uneasy about confronting the smoker, take the matter up with a supervisor or the personnel manager. Simply raising the issue is unlikely to get you fired. Most employers want their employees to have a comfortable working environment so that they can be as productive as possible.

In fact, many employers have policies designed to promote a smoke-free workplace. While your question suggests that your employer does not, you may not find out for sure if you do not bring up the subject. If your employer is unresponsive, you should investigate whether the office building has its own smoke-free policy. Also, some localities may have adopted smoke-free ordinances, so you should check with your local elected officials.

--Calvin House, Attorney

Fulbright & Jaworski L.L.P.

Professor, Western State

University College of Law


Question: I want to know if there is a law governing the number of sick leaves an employee is entitled to in a year.

--G.B., Lake Forest

Answer: Paid sick leave is not required by law. Many employers, however, allow employees the use of sick leave for family illnesses as a company policy.

California does require employers to provide pregnant employees up to four months of unpaid pregnancy leave under the California Fair Employment Practices law, and the federal Family & Medical Leave Act of 1993 requires employers with 50 or more employees to provide up to 12 weeks off per year to employees for adoption, birth or care of sick children, spouses or parents.

--Thomas M. Apke

Professor of business law

Cal State Fullerton


Question: What constitutes a week of vacation? We are all salaried and work in the property management industry, which has staffing seven days a week. Recently our supervisor has started requiring us to commit our time-off requests before making a new schedule.

In the event a person requests a week's vacation, he receives five days off but is usually required to work the day before and the day after the vacation period. We feel we should be permitted to add vacation time to our regular days off to create nine consecutive days off, considering that we have earned the vacation time. Is this legitimate?

--P.G., Seal Beach

Answer: Let's first clarify some main points. Vacation benefits, which are a gift from an employer, are among the most common of benefits. Any legal rights to such benefits normally arise only where vacations are included as a provision in an employment contract, a collective bargaining agreement or stated as a written employer policy.

Provided it doesn't violate any state or federal law, conditions placed upon taking vacation time are up to the employer. Review your employer policy to determine how much vacation time you have available, and if you need the weekends before and after the specified vacation time, request this as well.

--Elizabeth Winfree-Lydon

Senior staff consultant

The Employers Group

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