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HR FAQ – do employees have a right to smoking breaks?

I heard about a company where employees were taking unlimited smoking breaks.  The non-smokers were unhappy about this situation and went to the MD to complain.  Their solution was for him to allow everyone to finish early on a Friday – that, they believed, would redress the balance.  They argued the point so much that the MD gave in.  Everyone now finishes early on a Friday and the smokers continue having unlimited breaks.  I was horrified to hear of this situation and I thought it was a real shame that the employer felt he had no choice but to give in.

For the record, if the MD in question had approached me for advice, I would have told him to implement a robust smoking policy.  There is no statutory right to smoking breaks and the usual way to deal with this issue is to ensure that employees use their rest breaks to smoke.  Encouraging non-smoking employees to take rest breaks too is never a bad idea.  That way, everyone gets the same rest breaks away from their desks and there is room for argument.

Having the policy is just the first step.  If you don’t give it “teeth”, you might as well not bother.  Make the consequences of non-compliance clear.  Say what you will do and then, most importantly, do it.  The first time you’re aware of someone breaking the rules, do not put it off and think you’ll deal with it next time.  What message does that send to the employee concerned, not to mention everyone else?

For more information about smoking policies or any other policy your business needs, give us a call on 01487 815720.

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