HR · 1 November 2017

Employer gifts non-smokers six days of paid leave for lost cigarette break time

Employers are within their rights to restrict smoking during working hours
Employers are within their rights to restrict smoking during working hours

The debate around smoking breaks taken by UK workers has reared its head, following news that a Japanese company has generously compensated non-smoking staff for the extra cigarette break time taken by their colleagues who smoke.

Tokyo-based marketing company Piala Inc has introduced a new policy, giving non-smoking employees six days of additional paid leave every year over their cigarette break taking co-workers.

The firm’s head office is located on the twenty-ninth floor of a skyscraper, with smokers having to travel down to the ground floor for a cigarette break. As a result, each cigarette break taken by a Piala employee lasts at least 15 minutes.

Hirotaka Matsushima, a spokesperson for the Japanese company, told the Telegraph newspaper that the policy was introduced after a message was placed in the firm’s employee suggestion box, explaining that smoking breaks were becoming a problem.

The move may encourage UK employers to look more closely at their company policies towards cigarette breaks. Smoking amongst staff has long been a difficult issue for business owners, with many struggling to strike the right balance between smoking and non-smoking workers.

Many employers will allow staff to take short smoking breaks during working hours, however the time these employees spend outside is likely to be noticed by those who chose not to smoke.

According to Kate Palmer, head of advisory at employment law firm Peninsula, it’s the job company owners to provide clarity around staff rules for smoking at work.

“If they [employers] want to allow staff to take a cigarette break they should consider whether these are in addition to, or part of, employees’ normal break times,” Palmer said.

“If extra breaks are provided, how this effects other non-smoking members of staff should be examined to assess the likelihood of complaints being raised about less favourable treatment.

“The fairest, and least risky, option would be to provide extra short breaks to all staff, who may or may not use these to smoke. This will also regulate the length and frequency of breaks and limit the amount of time lost during each working day.”

Palmer added that UK employers are within their rights to restrict smoking during working hours outside of normal, designated breaks.

“Due to the rise in popularity of e-cigarettes, employers should double check their smoking rules or non-smoking policies to ensure these include a prohibition on e-cigarettes,” she went on to say.

Poor lifestyle choices cost unhealthy employees a month of productivity every year

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Fred Heritage is deputy editor at Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and international relations from the University of Kent and an MA in international conflict from Kings College London. He previously worked as a reporter at Global Trade Review magazine.

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