I'm not a smoker but if they get a break, I want one too...

At a recent Management meeting, the topic of employees 'over-using' smoking breaks came up.   It was brought to my attention that a couple of employees at one of our office facilities decided that they didn't need to be smokers to take smoke breaks.  One employee (Emp. A) frequently accompanied her co-worker/friend (Emp. B) on her smoke break so they could 'catch up' on their days.  When confronted and asked why she was taking a smoke break if she wasn't a smoker, Emp. A indicated that she should be given 'equal time to pause her work activities' as Emp. B was.  
For completely unrelated reasons, she's no longer with us but...it's bound to come up again.  <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />


What are your thoughts about non-smokers taking smoke breaks, or 'allowed equal time to pause their work activities’ as a smoker?


FYI, <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" /><?xml:namespace prefix = u1 />Iowa does not have a mandatory break law  - meaning that as an employer we don't have to give ANY kind of break.  However, we do give lunch breaks (unpaid) and of course we allow employees time for personal needs, meaning bathroom breaks - and if the employee is a smoker, a smoke break. Breaks are completely at the discretion of the manager. 


We do have a break policy and a smoking policy in our handbook but neither covers a non-smoker wanting a smoke break.



  • 15 Comments sorted by Votes Date Added
  • From a personal perspective -- I love this point. Why should we, as employers, essentially reward an employee for negative behavior that not only harms them physically, but also costs the employer in terms of increased health risk, lost days due to sickness, and (because of break time allowed), lost productivity and morale. I have never been really clear on why employers allow smoking breaks outside of any normal, scheduled breaks. I do understand addiction, I just don't understand why employers feel obligated to enable an addiction.

     I am a nonsmoker, so I am biased. However, seems like a great idea to give employees work breaks for positive, relaxing behavior. This would, in theory at least, encourage mental health and productivity.

    I will probably get a lot of flack for this comment, but here it goes . . .


  • On the production line, we have a limited number of breaks where employees can go outside.  Applicants and new hires are informed that smoking is only allowed during these designated breaks.

    In our small office, we don't seem to have any smokers. I do know that our EAP offers smoking cessation counseling. 

  • Hey, get the smokers to switch to nicotine gum--no extra breaks are necessary.
  • You know, if you add up all the time they are on smoke breaks, it can add up to an hour a day. That's a lot of time, and really is unfair to those nonsmokers who are working that whole hour. Often smoke breaks turn into conversations that can last ten or 15 minutes each time.
  • some companies ban smoking on their entire campus.  i imagine some smokers at these companies rush somewhere off campus to smoke. the issue of smoking bans is a touchy subject with smokers. to give you an idea, some of my friends smoke and they feel their "rights" are being trampled by the bans.  they feel like pariahs.
  • If you have a break policy in your handbook, it would seem to me that you should enforce it and make it stick.  I'm not sure what your policy is but it should cover all employees.  Nonsmokers might feel slighted if you are allowing people who smoke to take a smoking break but not giving a similar break to them.

  • I've heard this a million times. I'm an Exempt employee and have no legal right whatsoever to "breaks". I smoke when I want and if my boss decides the amount of breaks or time spent is inapropriate, then she can tell me and will keep in under control.

    Now my nonexempt employees are not permitted to take smoke breaks outside of their usual breaks at all and of course that's only fair.

    But for Exempt people - I am typically one of the first people in and one of the last out and I almost never, ever leave the building or take a full hour for lunch. All in all, I log a lot more hours worked than most people who would be so anal about time to notice my smoking; AND, at the end of the day, no matter how many hours I work, I'm ineligible for overtime pay anyway.

    These arguments typically only come from, and I'm not saying this is any of you, those people who spend half their time focusing on other people's work. Also, judging someone's personal legal behavior is silly enough, but using that judgement to suggest policies that would restrict their ability to do it is really wrong.

    At the end of the day, hourly people's breaks are clearly layed out in wage & hour law. Exempt people not pulling their weight or working enough should be dealth with accordingly.

  • As vile as I personally think smoking is, I have to agree with HRinLA. We have a lot of misuse of smoke breaks. I don't care if you go outside to smoke or you socialize at the water cooler for half an hour each day. What I do care about is whether you are getting your work done without burdening others.  Treat smokers' break abuse like any other break abuse.  if they can take an hour's worth of smoke breaks a day and still get their job done, give them more work to do!
  • We were having the problem of smokers taking extra breaks for smoking.  Employees began to complain about the additional breaks some were taking.  This was address with the managers and they were expected to keep this under control (ees only to take breaks during regularly scheduled breaks).  I would agree that it is inconsistent in allowing smokers to have additional break times.  I would suspect that this could become a legal issue.

    We went to a tobacco free property effective 1/1/07.  Employees were given a 1 yr notice and $500 for smoking cessation reimbursement and $200 for any covered dependents.  These funds can be accesses anytime during the course of the their employment, this year, next year, etc.

  • 09/20/07


    Sounds like you have implemented a plan and gave ample forwarning.......we just implemented a plan and only gae one week's warning.  So far it's ok, but we are also experiencing a downsizing, so that may deter violators!  Good luck.



  • I work at a Mental Health Facility where obviously "being healthy" is a must.  What we also do for employees is:  A.  If you do smoke, you are not allowed to smoke on property (wait until lunch, etc)   B.  We offer the quit smoking patches at no cost for a period of 3 months.    We discourage smoking among our residents and this is what we have implemented to try to curb our residents "bad habits."     Employees  have been very cooperative in complying. 
  • I have to agree with employee B.  Why should Sally drive up my insurance rates, get at least an hour a day away from work (and that's probably a conservative estimate) and get the luxury of supplying her nicotine addicition.  I'm a former smoker, but as an HR Manager and we, as a company have always made sure smokers and non-smokers got the same treatment.  When we went non-smoking company wide, smokers and non-smokers had no excuse for being away from their work stations other than normal break times.  We actually solved all of the problems with smoking when we went to strait - 8 shifts.  Employees no longer have breaks, lunches are 25 minutes, but they are paid company time so employees can't leave the property to have a cigarette, and smoking is banned everywhere on the campus.
  • Why in the world would you not allow a non-smoker to take the same amount of break time as a smoker????  That seems so counterintuitive to me.  A break, is a break, is a break.  Why should the company care whether you smoke or not, give everyone the same amount of time.  End of problem.  (of course, you could simply ban smoking all together and give no breaks unless you're in a state that requires breaks.)

    In my opinion, any company that gives smoke breaks but not other breaks is only defeating everything they should be working towards.  A healthier employee population and equal treatment for all employees.  It seems you have set up a culture where the company VALUES smokers above others.  I'd be ticked as a non-exempt non-smoker.

  • I guess we just do things differently in our office.  We are a small company and don't worry about "excess" breaks so long as our people get the job done in a timely manner.  The smoking break thing has never come up.
  • Ok, I must admit I've been the non-smoker on the smoking break. the smokers got me this fake cig. so I could have one in my hand. All joking aside there is a legal issue here. If you are allowing one group to stop work for what ever reason and the another not being allowed. Do the words discrimination mean any thing to you.
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