In the wake of “National No Smoking Day”, many employers have once again been faced with the tricky questions: just how involved in your employees’ business should you be; should smoking be completely banned from the workplace, and should there be separate rules for e-cigarette smokers?
Should smoking at work be banned completely?
Though it’s already illegal to smoke indoors, there is debate over whether smoking should be banned completely during working hours, with breaks and lunch hours included. While there are clear advantages to banning smoking at work, it’s important to understand that a blanket approach is unlikely to work for everyone. With many companies investing in company perks such as life and health insurance schemes, healthy employees who aren’t risking developing one of the many illnesses associated with smoking are likely to be preferable, and so many employers will opt to ban their staff from lighting up.
Furthermore, enabling employees to smoke during the working day means that your non-smoking staff are exposed to the effects of second-hand smoke; even if you do choose to provide a designated smoking area, smoke will often still be brought into the workplace on the clothes and belongings of those who have been outside.
Allowing staff to smoke at work means you’ll have to factor in smoking breaks, and this is where the issue can become complicated; you can either ban smoking during operational hours and only permit it at lunch or you’ll have to consider how often your staff should be allowed to go outside. If you choose to allow smoking breaks, you should be aware that your employees who don’t smoke may take issue with this, as they’re likely to feel that they’re also entitled to extra breaks throughout the day.
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However, though employers are key in supporting staff who choose to stop smoking, simply banning the practice from the workplace could result in less productive staff and lower morale. There’s no getting away from the fact that smoking is an addictive habit, and simply prohibiting your staff from smoking could cause negative effects, especially if it causes staff to focus more on their next cigarette than their work. However, the importance of employer support shouldn’t be underestimated, and with recent news suggesting that e-cigarettes may soon be available on the NHS to aid with quitting smoking, this could be the happy medium that employers are looking for.
What about employees who use e-cigarettes?
Currently there are no set rules on the use of e-cigarettes in the workplace, however, employers should ensure they’re handling the situation carefully. Whilst e-cigarettes are generally considered to be better and safer from a health-related viewpoint, the reality is that the long-term effects are still unknown. If you do allow the use of e-cigarettes in your workplace, are you going to allow it indoors?
It’s worth bearing in mind that this could cause an unpleasant working environment for those who don’t smoke, as vapour would likely remain in the air. Alternatively, asking employees with e-cigarettes to smoke outside could actually harm their efforts to leave smoking behind, particularly if they have to share a smoking area with employees with real cigarettes.
While they may not be available from the NHS yet, it’s important to consider how this might eventually affect your business; new smoking policies may have to be implemented, and as before, you’ll have to decide on whether breaks will be permitted.
It can be difficult to know how involved you should get in your employees’ business; advancements in technology now mean that some employers are keeping tabs on their employees’ health through fitness apps and wearable sport technology. Essentially, it’s understandable to want your employees to be healthy, and you should promote a fit and healthy workplace, but there are limits as to how involved you should be as a manager or business owner.
Smoking is and will always be a controversial subject, and while the law already dictates many situations, only you can decide what is best for your business.
Read more about the “creeping cult of corporate wellness” which is making employees feel sick, according to academic researchers.
Lee Biggins is founder and managing director of CV-Library.
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