There is no statutory right to smoke breaks

There is no statutory right to smoke breaks

It has become a common site to see employees huddled on balconies, and secluded corners puffing away whilst their non-smoking colleagues have their shoulder to the grindstone.  Some employers even have designated smoking rooms for the nicotine-addicted.  How fair is this, and what impact does it have on productivity?

Employers have no statutory obligation to permit smokers to light up at their whim, or even at all. Smokers are however quite entitled to smoke before and after work, during rest intervals as well as meal intervals (lunch time) outside of the employer’s premises or in a designated smoking room.

Employees who take smoke breaks during working hours (outside of tea-breaks) have a distinct advantage over their colleagues who don’t smoke.  This can lead to overt and covert discontent which can impact negatively on morale and productivity, as well as interruptions to work flows.

It is arguable that smokers are often over-indulged when it comes to smoke breaks, and unnecessarily so.  Employers are quite entitled to expect full productivity for the duration of working time, and are what’s more entitled to be legitimately aggrieved when productive time for which employees are paid, is squandered.

For example, three smoke breaks per day (which is conservative in many circumstances) amounts to thirty minutes of unproductive time per day.  This equates to in excess of 118 hours of down time per annum, once annual and sick leave has been provided for, or put differently, the employer is paying the smoker to smoke for three weeks per annum during working hours.  Where’s the sense in this?

Smoking policies have become increasingly important to address both statutory prohibitions on smoking in the workplace, and to promote a healthy working environment for all staff, a prerogative which flows first and foremost from section 24 of the Constitution which provides that “Every person has the right to an environment which is not harmful to their health and well-being”.

There should be no reason why smokers can’t limit smoke breaks to before and after work, lunch times and tea breaks.

When all is said and done, staff who cannot work without smoke breaks outside of normal tea and lunch times is incapable of meeting their employment obligations; this could place their ongoing employment in jeopardy.

Smokers are invariably over-indulged in smoking policies.  There is nothing preventing employers from adopting a stricter stance to smoke breaks taken during working hours. This could include an outright ban or a reduction in pay for time taken to smoke during working hours at the absolute expense of the employer.

Employers have the final say on this issue.


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