Smoking in the Workplace

Do employees, or other people, have the right to smoke in the workplace anymore?  Do employees have the right to “smoke” breaks?  And I should probably make my biases clear the start – I don’t smoke, and I hate smoking!

First of all it is completely employer discretion to allow smoking in the workplace, by anybody.  Some companies now have a no tolerance policy when it comes to smoking, with their job adds declaring a “smoke free environment”.  Some companies only allow smoking in prescribed areas, such as a separate designated spot, or 20 metres away from the entrance.  When deciding on a designated area, companies need to keep in mind not only passive smoke, but also fire hazards, and a place to safely put butts and other smoking paraphernalia.  Most food safe guidelines require employees to wash their hands after smoking, so think about including this in your smoking guidelines.  Also, the Tobacco Act (Vic) 1987 does not allow smoking in “covered” areas, which pretty much means anywhere with a roof and/or a wall.  Think about that next time you’re at a train station….

There is no such thing as a “smoke break” unless the employer decides to allow this.  Employees who smoke can do so on designated breaks that they have already, such as morning tea, and lunch.

So, if you don’t allow me smoke breaks, or just don’t let me smoke at all at work, can I then claim that I’m being discriminated against?  Perhaps on the grounds of disability, being an addict and all?  Absolutely not.  No legal jurisdiction in Australia recognises addiction as a disability, so I’m just going to have to suck it up.  Just not literally, with a cigarette.

So, think about perhaps having a policy about smoking in your workplace, to balance the needs of employees and customers, whilst keeping them safe, and ensuring that you have a means to treat everyone the same.  If in doubt, have a chat to your local, friendly employee relations consultant.