Smoke Breaks

I am the controller of a small private club. We currently do not provide paid breaks because all employees are allowed the freedom to go to the restroom and get coffee/soda whenever they feel like it. A few employees smoke and take 3 or more 10 to 15 minute breaks per day to leave the building to smoke (we work in a downtown high-rise). This is causing irritation among the non-smokers and costing the company a lot of money. I do not know the law regarding smokers and providing them the opportunity to smoke. Could someone put it in a nutshell for me?


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  • There is no protection for smokers as far as I know and it appears that your smokers are taking advantage of your relaxed work environment. It may be time to develop a policy limiting the number and duration of breaks that employees are allowed during the day. You did not state how long employees going for soda or coffee are allowed away from work, but it sounds like their "break" periods are much shorter than for those going to smoke. It's unfortunate that some employees always mess up a good thing for everyone else by taking undue advantage of an employer's generosity. We had a similar situation and eventually had to put a very stringent policy into effect. Our employees are given one 15 minute break each morning and afternoon. They also have a 45 minute lunch break. Our policy: If you have to smoke, these are the times you can do it. In addition we've tried to stress the health benefits of not smoking. (Helps us on our medical plan costs) We also provide help in getting employees into smoking cessation programs. Good luck.
  • Some states and cities do have laws protecting smokers rights (Kentucky and New Orleans to name two). I don't know where you are located, but you do need some legal advice for your area.

    Try not to over react. Too many times the company drafts policies to address a few individuals in the work force who take advantage and wind up making all the employees mad. I would first speak to the employees as a group and tell them that some employees are taking more breaks and longer breaks than other employees. Tell them that it is your desire to continue to allow employees to maintain the freedom to have breaks when it meets their needs, that you would rather not have to mandate a morning break, a lunch break and an afternoon break as being the only ones available to employees. You want to make them aware of the complaints you have received from employees who are working more because they do not take as many breaks and ask that they be sensitive and fair, ensuring that the work gets done equally by everyone. Otherwise, you will have to step in and mandate breaks. Hopefully, this will clean up the problem. You will still have a few inconsiderate die-hards who don't care. Address them one-on-one and even issue corrective action, if necessary. Treat them the same way you would an employee who is always away from their work station or duties. No different from the employee who is always taking (or making) personal phone calls at work. If the majority don't respond, then tell the employee group that they have not been able to police this themselves, so you have no other choice but to mandate breaks.

    Hope this helps. Good luck!

    Margaret Morford
  • We had this same type of problem and it was mostly limited to one particular department. The supervisor advised the employees that she was aware that they were taking more breaks than normal and if this continued, they would have to implement a sign in and sign out sheet. This seemed to be effective. Most supervisors handle this very well, but as you said, there are always those employees who try to "push the envelope" and cause policies and procedures to be put in place that make everyone angry.
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