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Second-hand smoke and the workplace

It's the world's worst-kept secret that second-hand smoke is bad for you. In fact, there are some advocates who argue that it can be just as bad for your health as smoking. That's why many cities, bars and restaurants have completely forbidden people from smoking on the premises.

But what happens when you're exposed to smoke at your workplace? Oftentimes, even when smoking is prohibited in the building, it may still be permitted near the entrance or an area you must frequent as a part of your job. If you start developing health issues as a result, is your employer liable for them? Will workers' compensation cover any medical issues? What if you have a preexisting condition and the smoke makes it worse?

The answer is that workers' compensation does cover what's called "environmental tobacco smoke" (ETS), but it may depend on the circumstances. In the past, claims like these were usually rejected outright, but new research and a better understanding in the public realm has led to a more generous approach. In order for a claim to succeed, you may need to show:

  • You have a particular sensitivity to ETS.
  • You have a diagnosed condition that makes ETS harmful to you.
  • That you were exposed to ETS in the workplace.
  • And that you weren't exposed to a great degree outside the workplace.

You may also benefit from an attorney who handles workers' compensation claims. He or she might be able to present your case in a way that helps your employer and insurance company understand it.

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