Company Smoking Ban Discriminatory?
VANCOUVER (Reuters) - A Canadian company's ban on workplace smoking discriminated against workers unable to give up cigarettes because their heavy nicotine addiction, according to an arbitrator's report released on Monday.
The labor arbitrator said a heavy addiction is a physical disability and the ban imposed by Cominco Ltd in 1998 at its smelter complex in Trail, British Columbia, violated the province's human rights code.
The company and its unions, which had challenged the ban, said they believe it is the first time in Canada that addiction to nicotine has been declared a physical disability and subject to anti-discrimination protection.
The unions representing about 1,650 workers complained the ban on possessing any tobacco on Cominco company property was too harsh on some employees whose addiction made it impossible to make through the workday without a smoke.
``Simply declaring the entire property as nonsmoking is not going to end someone's lifelong addiction,'' said Jim Saare, president of United Steelworks of America Local 9705, which said it will work with the company to develop a more flexible anti-smoking plan.
Cominco spokeswoman Carol Vanelli said the company banned tobacco on its 400-acre property in Trail in a bid to protect workers from second-hand smoke, and in response to government anti-smoking regulations.
Workers caught violating the ban faced discipline, including being fired.
``While the union recognizes that the majority of our members are nonsmokers, it is necessary to work out a balance between the rights of non smokers and those of our members who are heavily addicted to nicotine.'' said Rod Audia, president of United Steelworkers' Local 480.
The arbitrator did not define in his 138-page ruling who could be considered a ``heavily addicted'', so the issue would have to be resolved in talks between the union and company, Vanelli said.