· 2 min read · Features

Hot topic: Extra leave for non-smokers


Japanese firm Piala recently announced six extra paid leave days a year for non-smoking staff

It said this was to compensate for the time their colleagues spend on cigarette breaks. But is this legal? Is it a company’s place to encourage people to be healthier? Might such a move encourage presenteeism rather than staff working in a way that suits them?

Tim Scott, people director at Fletchers Solicitors, says:

"There are a lot of businesses who still focus on inputs instead of outputs and this is one manifestation. If a team member takes a quick break and comes back more focused and productive, isn’t that better than someone sitting at their desk all day surfing the internet?

"In many working environments we’d be better served by encouraging people to spend more time away from their desks, taking breaks from their screens, and eating lunch with colleagues, all of which demonstrably improve wellbeing at work and promote collaboration and creativity.

"These days we all know that giving up smoking is usually the single biggest thing someone can do to improve their health, so it’s absolutely right that we should do what we can to encourage people – but this seems to me to be an attempt to solve the wrong problem."

Leon Deakin, partner at Coffin Mew, says:

"Offering this type of incentive in most cases will be entirely legal and the motives behind it may well be noble. But personally I would recommend employers give such schemes a wide berth. This is simply because time spent away from the desk or workstation by colleagues smoking is an issue likely to cause rows in the workplace.

"The perceived unfairness of granting extra holiday to those who choose to quit or to those who do not smoke at all will be damaging. That is before you even consider those who will undoubtedly see this as impinging on their freedom.

"Once you start to go down this route where do you stop? Limiting toilet or coffee breaks in return for time off? What about those who take a break to use e-cigarettes or make a personal call? The resulting impact on staff morale all round could be much more expensive than a claim.

"This is before you even consider how to regulate such a scheme in practice. As a cynical lawyer, obvious questions include: how long would you have to quit for? What happens if you quit, take some extra leave and then start smoking again? Finally, you may even find some staff arguing it eases stress.

"So even as a non-smoker I feel this sort of scheme will last about the same time as most of my New Year’s resolutions (not long). Indeed, if you have staff spending six days a year not working, despite being physically present, there are better ways to address this whatever the reason."

Check back tomorrow for part two of this hot topic