How should you deal with a worker allergic to cigarette smoke?

Lathe operator Frank Symond was hypersensitive to cigarette smoke. His severe reaction consisted of eye, nose, and throat irritation, accompanied by headaches and nausea.
By Raymond Dreyfack October 1, 1998

Lathe operator Frank Symond was hypersensitive to cigarette smoke. His severe reaction consisted of eye, nose, and throat irritation, accompanied by headaches and nausea.

Chain smoker Joe Frisbee, a maintenance mechanic, was insensitive to Symond’s situation. Since smoking was allowed in the plant, he felt it would be an injustice to have to yield to Symond’s demand that he refrain from smoking in and around his work area. On one occasion, the men almost came to blows over the issue.

Symond complained to his boss, Production Foreman Ed Cosco, who passed along the complaint to Maintenance Supervisor Mel Brock.

“Frank’s not beefing to be contrary,” Cosco said. “He gets physically sick in the presence of cigarette smoke. Do me a favor. Order Frisbee not to light up in that area. There are plenty other places he can smoke.”

“There’s no rule against smoking,” Brock said. “I can’t order Frisbee not to smoke. All I can do is ask him, which I’ve already done. If he refuses, I can’t discipline him for it.”

When Symond heard the response, he threatened to sue.

Question : If this was your problem, how would you solve it?

Belk’s decision: Upon hearing Symond’s threat, Brock decided to talk the matter over with his boss. Plant Engineer Larry Belk ruled against Joe Frisbee’s insensitivity. He issued an injunction that banned smoking at Symond’s workplace and in adjacent areas to his right and left, with punitive measures taken if ignored.

“Several courts,” Belk told the supervisor, “already have initiated measures in consideration of employees who are hypersensitive to cigarette smoke. In some cases such people are designated as handicapped workers requiring that “reasonable steps” be taken in response to the problem. This would seem to be such a case.”

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