Employers plan to curb smoking breaks

Jul 02 2007 by Brian Amble Print This Article

As England's new ban on smoking in enclosed public places takes effect, lawyers claim that employers are planning to use the new ban to crack down on staff taking cigarette breaks.

More than a third of employers plan to take advantage of the July 1 ban to put a stop to staff heading out of the office to feed their habits, according to a survey of more than 250 firms by employment law advisors Consult GEE.

Yet the survey also warned that while there is little workers can do to stop such breaks being outlawed, to do so would risk workplace disputes as well as encourage them to smoke in secret on company premises in contravention of the controversial new law.

"Although there has never been a contractual right to smoke at work, companies seem keen to eradicate smoking among staff, and the ban is giving them the impetus to do just that," said Stuart Chamberlain of Consult GEE.

"Employees will struggle to fight any bans on their smoking breaks because they are not entitled to them."

"It could be that they try to claim a breach of the Working Time Regulations, which grants staff working for a minimum of six hours a day 20 minutes' break," he added.

"However, it will prove difficult for an employee to succeed in the employment tribunal with such a claim."

The survey also found that while more than half of employers felt the ban would encourage their staff kick the habit, almost three-quarters were not prepared to give them any paid time off for stop-smoking treatment or support.

What's more, despite nine out of 10 companies in the survey supporting the ban, fewer than a quarter (22%) felt it would boost productivity levels, with three-quarters claiming it will make no difference.

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said that while many smokers would view the ban as an opportunity to quit or cut down, hardened nicotine addicts might not find giving up so easy.

"If employers decide to crack down on fag breaks, the danger is that some hardened smokers may try to find ways of flouting the ban," he warned.

"Employers should take a sensible approach to the ban and not use 1 July as a stick with which to beat their employees who smoke."