Ridley’s Family Market implemented a new tobacco-free worksite policy at the first of the year that does not allow employees to smoke on the premises.
Mark Ridley, director of operations at Ridley’s, said this came about because of requests from employees who had conflicts arise with smoking employees who received more work breaks.
Jessie Lohberg, a senior from Marysville, Wash., studying psychology, related to Ridley’s non-smoking employees easily.
“I feel like the people who smoke get way more breaks because they have to go out and smoke because they’re addicted. It’s not fair because it’s like, ‘So if I start smoking I can have more breaks ’cause I’m addicted to it?'” Lohberg said.
Lohberg also said it felt like they were getting special treatment because of their addiction. Issues became more evident with the question of how to deal with a problem involving an addiction. However, Ridley’s came up with a solution to fix the conflict while also addressing the issue.
At Ridley’s, employees were notified of the change six months in advanced and the company provided resources for employees to either quit or cut back on smoking. The company also allowed employees to choose what kind of treatment they would use and paid the cost for employees to undergo that treatment.
“Our commitment to them was that we would cover whatever cost it was for them to do that, ” Ridley said.
Several employees quit smoking altogether as a result of the policy. And although the company expected to receive negative feedback from employees when they announced the change, they received more positive feedback instead.
Ridley’s has stores in Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, and Nevada. In order to make this transition work, they partnered with health departments from each state.
Toni Carpenter, tobacco prevention and control program manager for Utah County Health Department, said the type of transition Ridley’s used is the most effective. Carpenter said assisting employees in quitting rather than giving them the expectation to quit is more effective in making the policy a reality. Carpenter also said Ridley’s isn’t the only grocery store to make this kind of transition.
“On a different level, Harmons is actually getting rid of tobacco products altogether so they won’t be selling any,” Carpenter said.
While these policies provide better work environments for employees, they also have other benefits. In the Utah County Health Department’s tool kit for implementing tobacco-free worksite policies, they list several benefits that result from these policies. These include decreased absenteeism in smokers, increased productivity, lower insurance costs, less risk of occupational injury, and less disciplinary action.
These programs also contribute to preventing smoking among young people by giving them an expectation of employee behavior. According to Carpenter, sending a message that states future employees either need to not smoke or cut back to work at a specific business helps prevent younger workers from beginning to smoke in the first place.
“The nice thing is that it’s catching on with other businesses nationwide. They are seeing the value and benefits of a smoke-free policy,” Carpenter said.
With 3,820 downloads of Utah County Health’s tool kit in the past year, there may be an indicator it is also becoming a trend in Utah.