Ohio Firm Wins Workplace Smoking Rules Dispute

March 14, 2006 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A federal appellate court has agreed with an Ohio company that it had the right to modify its work rules to totally ban workplace smoking under a zero-tolerance policy.

In issuing its opinion, the 6 th  US Circuit Court of Appeals threw out a lower court ruling which, in turn, had invalidated an employee firing over the no-smoking issue at Spero Electric Corp., of Streetsboro, Ohio.

In the lower court ruling, US District Judge Solomon Oliver Jr. of the US District Court for the Northern District of Ohio had agreed with an arbitrator’s ruling that Spero was wrong in unilaterally discharging employee John Salters for a first-offense violation of the anti-smoking rule on January 17, 2003. Under the January 17 rule, employees who smoked anywhere in the plant would be discharged – even for a first offense.

On appeal of Oliver’s ruling, Spero argued that the January 17 version of its no-smoking rule should have been applied in judging the Salters’ discharge. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, AFL-CIO (IBEW) argued that the employer had effectively given up the right to promulgate the smoking rule through its relations with its unions. The 6 th Circuit sided with the employer.

Before January 2003, Spero enforced a smoking rule that permitted smoking in certain designated areas, but provided for a four-step progressive disciplinary process for employees who smoked in nondesignated areas. On Jan. 3, 2003, however, Spero and IBEW representatives met to discuss changes to the smoking rule.

The opinion in the case of Spero Electric Corp. v. International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, AFL-CIO, Local Union No. 1377, 6th Cir., No. 04-4142 (Feb. 28, 2006) is  here.