Smoke breaks taken by Office Employees 16

I was confronted with a dilima where previous Management allowed employees to take ad hoc smoke breaks, which meant that when the craving came, they went!  Not only the Office workers but also the factory employees, they would pop outside and puff-away.. If an office worker takes a smoke break it holds up their work. If a production worker takes a break, production is covered by a mate, if the foreman spots him he gets reprimanded . Not a cool situation.


As a smoker myself, I did not smoke during working hours, New Environmental Lesgislation then required employers to construct sheltered smoking areas with disposal facilities for the cigerette buts etc.

A meeting was then convened to discuss the new legislation and its implications.

In order to accomodate smokers the added costs barring the downtime of the employee just taking off, to me, it was ludicious, new construction, cleaner for smoking stations etc


I then threw a spanner in the works by pointing out that unless all smoking during working hours was stopped the company would indirectly be  allowing discrimination, – if the smokers were allowed to take say 20 minutes a day out for smoking, what is to stop a non smoker stepping out for 20 minutes?

Is that not a form of discrimination.  (This was in the UK).

In the end it was decided that all area including the grounds and parking lots were none smoking areas. It was worked out fine eventually, once the full implecation of all these unplanned smoke breaks had on production, costs, descrimination to non smokers regarding the time out etc was explained to the smokers they agreed it was an unfair pratice. (You could spot the smoke filled cars in the parking lot at lunch time, (weather permiting of course).


The memory of this just sprang to mind when walking through the CBD  and seeing office workers outside the building or on the corners during working hours and wondered what the local thinking was on this practice?


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16 thoughts on “Smoke breaks taken by Office Employees

  • Chris Hersov

    CBM Training is currently running a program to help employees to stop smoking. It is a 90 min session for 15 people and above and comes with loads of extras to help people give up. We have been having a lot of success with this, (My own marketing manager has given up when I used him as a guinea pig). We offer this to many of our corporates as part of their wellness programs, supported with posters and stats for work time lost. If anyone would like more details for their own company or their clients, please e-mail the above marketing manager on

  • Gail Dawson Post author

    Thank you everyone for your input and advice!! I acknowledge Des’s information regarding the Law making provision for the protection of non-smokers, and the possibility of Designated smoking areas. Should a company decise it would designate a smoking area: A allocation of space with adaquate ventilation must be provided, Health and Safety regulations then come into play, fire extinguishers etc., extra cleaning, all and expense to accomodate a vice, which, when each smoker looks deep inside themselves, they realy do not like the “smoking concept” but enjoy the feeling they get when smoking! I feel that if a company is will to invest in their employees monies would be well spent on something holistic which will benefit everyones wellbeing. I introduced a library in an organization, a topics discussion panel, (certain contentious topics were not permitted. We discussed everything, from why we pay taxes, to breastfeeding and constipation. The results were fantastic everyone bonded, even top management came to the canteen for their lunches.

    The staff did not feel the need to walk round the shops anything to get away, taking your mind of the stress revives the mind, body and soul. Build the spirit and it will soar.

  • Wilma de Villiers

    We had a secretary that told everybody that she NEVER took a lunch break and how hard she works.

    What she did not tell is that she took a 10 minute smoke break almost every hour!!!  To her the smoke breaks did not count and she was proud that she ‘never took a lunch break”.


    I feel that at companies where people can take a smoke break whenever they want to, non-smokers should be allowed to leave work an hour earlier every day OR get paid more!!!!

    Ps I wonder what smokers’ reaction would be!


  • David Janus

    I think that, on regularly scheduled breaks (tea time, etc) and during lunch that if people want to smoke they should be able to smoke in designated areas – but not be able to just go and smoke whenever and wherever they want.

    However, if the company has to construct new shelters etc just so people can smoke then I agree with the OP’s plan of action – no smoking at all – a cost of that much to the company is dumb just so people can indulge a bad habit.

    If the people in the company who do smoke would be willing to contribute to paying the costs of these shelters then that should be tabled and a plan agreed upon.

  • Kevin Marlow

    I have worked for a number of companies (production and non production)and the solution has been rather simple and that is smokers utilise their tea and lunch breaks in designated areas as per the Health regulations. The same has been applied where internet access has been allowed and is monitored. Employees receive itemised billing of their extentions and have to account for telephone usage.

  • moshawa modise

    Hi Gail,

    I would not say that I qualify to comment on this matter because I have not smoked in my life. Having said that, I guess we need to see some compromise and this implies, what the law says and an add-on with respect to what is best for the team/s. I think the non-smokers need to be considerate and avoid asking for the same breaks that the smokers need regarding breaks.

    I do a lot of training sessions and at some point [ say 10 year ago ] we had about 90 % of attendees smoking and thus requesting regular breaks. This has now changed, that nowadays there is about 10 % or less  smokers in class. Let alone this trend , we normally have boi -breaks and most of the non-smokers do remain in the room and network whilst other colleagues are out. In a nutshell, I think the Management and Supervisors are not well capacitated to deal with the matter. This is a matter that empowered self-directed teams will handle very well.

    All of the BEST !  

  • Willem Velthuizen

    It is tough and I know as an ex smoker but the only solution is controlling the time spent on smoking. There is no difference between smoking,internet abuse, kitchen and ablution usage or private phone calls (cellphones included). It is all productivity killers and is covered by poor work performance disciplinary should the rights be abused. Clocking in and out can monitor time spent on smoke breaks and if abused action must be taken as long as the same policy is in place for the other time wasters.

  • Sean Bowes

    This is good input, as in our company there are numerous complaints of smokers taking extra time off.  I agree that if smokers get 20 minutes a day, then so should non-smokers.  However, it would be much more beneficial to a company to not allow smoking at all during working hours.

  • Johan van der Merwe

    As an employer myself, I must remind you that a happy employee is the most productive. Find a compromise that suits all. To implement clever rules to try and up productivity will have a negative effect and your productivity will decrease.

  • Hannetjie Hock

    Always a contentious issue, depending on which side of the fence you are…

    One must just remember that to state that only non-smokers may apply when advertising posts is also a form of unfair discrimination. 

    The best policy would still be to apply a system of deducting time or stating that smoking is to be done during lunch/tea breaks.

  • Robyn Hendrikz (nee High)

    A number of my clients have had this problem and they have all implemented various solutions including ‘smoking times’! I do however feel that the policy must be made clear from the start. If posts are being advertised then the applicant must know the policy or the company should state that only non-smokers may apply. As for the ‘oldies’, stick to the rules and meet the requirements. I’m a smoker but I don’t smoke during office hours – I just don’t have the time!

  • Des Squire


    Hi Gail – some information that might assist

    The company should consider introducing a Smoke Free Environment Policy in which it outlines the approach to smoking in the workplace. The issue is covered to some extent by the “Tobacco Products Control Act’ which provides for the protection of non-smokers – nothing is said about the smoker (tough – I stopped 10 months ago).

    In addition, smoking in the workplace is not regulated or controlled in any way by Labour Law so any decisions made would have to be done in terms of the above act.

     In terms of this Act, the employer is obliged to take steps to protect his non-smoking staff from the cigarette smoke of the smokers but how the employer goes about this is left up to the employer.

    There is no obligation on the employer to provide smoke breaks. If the employer were to decide to give smoke breaks he/she would also be entitled to request the employee to put in the extra time. So if the employer were to grant say 6 ten minute smoke breaks in a day then he/she could (at his discretion) request the employee to work an additional hour. Similarly the employer could deduct the time from salary at month end.

     The alternative is to place a total ban on smoking which the employer is also entitled to do or to designate a specific area for smoke breaks. 

     If the employer decides to provide a designated are then he/she must comply with the Tobacco Products Control Act bearing in mind the workplace is classified in terms of the act as a “public place”.

    In terms of your question then the employer has an obligation in terms of section 6 of the act to ensure “no person smokes anywhere other than in the designated smoking area in that public place”

    Employers are obliged to have a written policy on smoking in the workplace, and the policy must be applied within three months from the date of coming into operation of the Tobacco Products Control Amendment Act, 1999 (Act No. 12 of 1999)

     In terms of section 9 of the act any employer or person in control of any public place or part of a public place may totally prohibit smoking in that place

  • Glenhazel Mponeng Mphasane

    I know how that is, and as a none smoker you are always siting in for people or covering up for them. There is a lady I know in Polokwane who works with Eskom to hepl people to stop smoking, she runs a 13 program that has helped a lot of the Eskom employess, maybe you can call her and ask to come and do a presentation for her work:082 681 0566 this is her number her name is Elle Makgabo Sekobane, and she also has a helth program too, call her she will help.

  • Pieter Volschenk

    The problem with South Africa is that if you implement a complete non smoking area or deduct it from their pay, the people will have the union there in no time and then you sit with endles hours of meetings again

    I was asked a question at one of our tolbox talks, “If I’m a casual drinker may Idrink in my lunch time?” The obvious answer is no, but we allow people to smoke when ever and WHATEVER, (Do we check what they smoke?) and he is not bringing alchol to work. What is your point on this?

  • Gavin Tonks

    There was an interesting case when a certain bank had half of their employees in the street smoking away,so they decided just to clock everyone in and out and  deducted their smoke breaks from their pay, once the full implication hit the sbreakers the street seriously cleared to a trickle.


    Another incident was a company received a new Japanese MD [the company was under performing] who no one had actually seen. He requested some important documents and the employee [requested to print the documents] decided he needed a smoke break first. The Japanese CEO went looking for his documents to find the employee smoking outside in a flower bed. After a suitable dressing down and a lecture of the direct consequence of his actions on his employment status, the Japanese CEO has his pages a few minutes later and efficiency became a  a key function of the operation.