Policy Prohibiting Smoking

Our management team is concerned about the amount of productive time lost due to employees taking breaks to smoke.  Would it be discriminatory to have a policy prohibiting smoking?  This would not only effect our active employees but also our hiring practices; can you reject an applicant because they smoke?  If you have a policy regarding smoking at the work place, would you be willing to share it with me?

Thank you 



  • 4 Comments sorted by Votes Date Added
  • From reading your post it would seem fair to say that your actual problem has less to do with people who smoke and more to do with break time issues. Based on that you can gain control of employees being absent from their ‘work stations’ by having an enforceable break policy.

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    Breaks are not required under federal law. Your state law may address breaks or a union contract may address it. Still, smoking breaks are nothing more than. . .breaks. Smokers should not assume more privilege for break time than is allowed for any other break, according to your policy. Your problem seems to be more of an inconsistency problem than a smoking problem.


    Your next question however, is totally different and perhaps unrelated. There are some state laws that prohibit discrimination in hiring based on smoking. Here in VA the state law applies to public employees but not to private practice.


    We prohibit tobacco use under the VA and Federal presumptive illness statues. That is on or off the job. The employee signs an agreement to that and it is enforceable up to dismissal. However, most states have some sort of law that protects off duty behavior including smoking.


    Check the statute in your state before you move on prohibiting smoking or refusing to hire smokers. Beef up your break time policy, enforce it for all employees and you should gain the lost productivity that you spoke of.

  •  If you have unions, better check the collective bargaining agreement first before implementing that policy.

    Also, if you are going to have managers and supervisors enforcing a "beefed-up" break policy, you better do some training first because that can get prickly, especially if the supervisors or managers are smokers themselves.


  • [quote user="bevhunt"] Also, if you are going to have managers and supervisors enforcing a "beefed-up" break policy, you better do some training first because that can get prickly, especially if the supervisors or managers are smokers themselves.[/quote]

    This is true. You can bet it will get prickly. On the other hand if the supers and managers are a contributing part of the lost productivity problem due to smoking breaks, that would be even more of a reason to enforce the break time policy. They are supposed to be setting the example. It may take a bit to get things as company interest would require but being reticent because supers or managers may also be smokers will not solve the problem. (not saying you suggested that) Of course now one would have to have the buy-in and support at a much higher level of responsibility in the organization.

    I agree that training would be a first and important step. Training could come with voluntary stop smoking programs, it could show an analysis of lost productive time and it's consequences and take many different avenues.

    The picture is actually much larger. It was stated that smoking breaks are causing lost productivity. The allowance of a weak break policy for smokers may have the untended consequence of resentment from other employees that do not smoke, feeling as if the breaks are not fair to them. Perhaps non-smokers taking the same amount of break time as extended or unauthorized breaks do not get the leniency that the smokers do. So ultimately one will have to stop the non-productive activity through enforcement of the break time policy.

    What we may learn is that maybe the gain of the break time is not worth the effort. Maybe it is but either way employees, upper management and mid to low level supers are going to be impacted.

  • Some people can take a smoke in 5 minutes.  Some people take 15 minutes.  Sadly, because of employer abuses like making people clock out to urinate, all manner of short breaks are tough to manage.  However, you can ban unauthorized breaks and simply take control of  them.  People have to get their smoking done while they're on approved break and such breaks are given on an even-handed basis.  If you anticipate a merit based break plan (accomplish x, get a break), let us know.  I'm sure there will be some comments.
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