Non-smokers fuming over smokers' breaks

18th Sep 2003
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Non-smokers at work are fuming over the additional breaks their smoking colleagues seem to be taking and are demanding additional breaks to compensate, according to Croner Consulting.

Richard Smith, employment law expert at Croner Consulting says: "Employers often ask us if they should limit or stop smokers from having cigarette breaks, or if non-smokers should be entitled to extra breaks to compensate. In fact, neither non-smokers nor smokers have the right to request additional breaks and it is entirely down to the discretion of the employer."

Employers have a responsibility to treat all employees equally, and to address any resentment between groups of employees, such as smokers and non-smokers.

So how can employers fairly manage their employees' smoking breaks and avoid associated resentment in the workplace?

In order to prevent potential complaints, employers are advised to clarify their policies on breaks and smoking. Employers should:

  • Remember they do not have to agree to additional breaks for non-smoking employees and a grievance of this kind would not be a case for tribunal.
  • Identify the scale of the problem; speak to smoking and non-smoking employees about their feelings and opinions.
  • Satisfy the complainant/s that they are seriously considering the matter and as an employer they treat everyone fairly and equally.
  • Clarify their policy on breaks at work. Ensure all employees are aware of the breaks and reasonable time away from their workstation they are entitled to in a day.
  • Consider giving smoking employees the option to take a shorter lunch break and more smoking breaks.
  • Communicate to non-smoking employees that they have the right to leave their workstation for their entitlement of refreshment breaks and smokers are not entitled to more breaks.
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