Addressing Smokers Near a Workplace Door

Q: I work in an office park where most everyone parks in the rear parking lot of the building. I have asthma and cigarette smoke is a problem for me. When I leave the office mid-day for lunch, I have to walk by a group of smokers. This group usually keeps their distance from the building but they huddle near the back door if the weather is bad. We have told our HR Rep but she doesn’t seem to do anything. Unfortunately our HR Director is one of the smokers. I am not the only one bothered. My employer is one of three tenants. What can we do because they are not smoking IN the building, just NEAR the building?

A: In Massachusetts, there is a law called The Smoke-Free Workplace Law. The law addresses smoking at entrances and exits of workplaces.

Smoking is permitted in an outdoor space if the space is physically separated from the enclosed workspace, if the space is open to air at all times and if smoke does not travel back into the workspace. The state law does not require smokers to stand at a specific distance from the workplace although there may be some local ordinances which may have such a requirement.

In your situation it sounds like smokers who “huddle near the back door” might be creating the most significant problem because smoke is likely traveling back into the building. Since your HR Rep has not been that helpful, I would contact your property management company. If your company is a tenant in the building, this would be the firm that maintains the building and ensures that it is a safe building for all. Secondhand smoke exposure is not just a nuisance but a safety issue. Explain to the property management company that there is an issue with employees standing too close to the back door while smoking. They may post a notice that requires people to stand a certain number of feet from the building. They may have their security team patrol the back door and be watchful of any problem behavior, asking them to smoke elsewhere.

For nonsmokers, it is difficult to be “hit” with that wall of smoke when you enter or leave a building. I find it happens less often than it did even 10 years ago but it still happens.

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Boston.com Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.