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Caithness News Bulletins July 2003
Stubbing Out Smoking In The Workplace
The laws on public smoking, while not yet enforcing a complete ban, are getting tighter and it is crucial that employers are aware of their rights and the rights of their staff when it comes to introducing or changing a policy on smoking at work. Getting it wrong could see employers winding up in an Employment Tribunal facing huge legal bills and having to defend a complaint of unfair dismissal at the very least.
How hazardous the passive smoking of cigarettes is deemed to be, varies according to whom you believe. A recent study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) by American researchers claimed that passive smoking may not cause heart disease and lung cancer. However, the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) support the view that passive smoking is very damaging to health. The CIEH even calls for a complete ban on smoking in the workplace. What is without doubt is that illnesses are often attributed to passive smoking and very often employers are forced to pay compensation to those affected.
Providing a smoking-room is one option. Most modern large office complexes will have some kind of facility like this where smokers can retire to and puff away to their hearts content. But what about non-smokers? It is absolutely critical that policies on breaks and rest periods are firmly stated in staff handbooks and in contracts of employment. Non-smoking colleagues would soon become disgruntled if smokers were given preferential treatment in terms of the length and frequency of breaks during the day.
Banning smoking from the building may be seen by many as a simple, clearly understood solution. The image of your company can be tarnished by a throng of workers hustled outside the entrance to your business smoking if view of the public. This looks scruffy and does not project a good image for your company. But what rights do you have to remove employees from outside the building? Can you forcibly remove employees from outside your company’s front door? Seeking legal advice before you take any steps is crucial.
People caught smoking in areas where they shouldn’t and
when they have been made aware of the rules, must be subjected to
stringent disciplinary procedures. If an employee continually flouts the
company policy by smoking in banned areas and then gets dismissed, if a
record of dates when they were warned about their future conduct cannot be
produced and the employer has failed to follow a fair disciplinary
procedure, then the employer could find itself in deep water with an
Having a clear, written policy on smoking at work should be a priority for all businesses. Before introducing policies, companies should perform some kind of consultation with their employees and management to ensure that consideration is given to all views. Businesses must ensure that they comply with employment law regulations whenever they address the tricky issue of smoking in the workplace, getting it right first time can save lots of hassle in the long run.
Alan Lewis is a partner and expert in employment law at Manchester law firm George Davies Solicitors. Here he spells out the do’s and don’ts of implementing a company policy on smoking in the workplace