Brain Food: Workplace rights - Fag-end of an era

Smoking in offices, factories and other enclosed public spaces will be stubbed out in the ashtray of history by the end of 2008. So says the Government's king-size White Paper on public health. Controversial exemptions will include pubs not serving prepared food and private clubs whose members vote to allow smoking. Employees at such establishments deserve less protection from the cocktail of cancer-inducing chemicals that comprise second-hand tobacco smoke, it would seem. Overall, though, the decision to opt for a legislative ban marks a bold and decisive shift in favour of a smoke-free environmental norm. The potential for exorbitant health and safety litigation, and the lure of lower insurance premiums have already persuaded most businesses to outlaw or restrict workplace smoking. But amid all this baccie-busting zeal, a nod towards the nicotine-hooked minority might not go amiss. The law allows employers to refuse to recruit smokers and even to dismiss staff for having a ciggie habit outside hours (at least, until they have done the one year's service needed to claim unfair dismissal). Perhaps Britain should follow the many US states that prohibit employers from discriminating on grounds of employees' off-duty smoking status.

by Michael Burd and James Davies, Lewis Silkin solicitors, employment@lewissilkin.com
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

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