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Dealing with Employees/Scheduled breaks in the office

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Question
I work for a big city government. We work 8-1/2 hour days, supervisors work 9 hour days, and managers work 10 hour days. ALL of us are schedule two 15-minute breaks, every 4 hours, between lunch, according to the Human Resources handbook. 25 years on the job. I know the rules very well. And HR is always open to discussion on almost ANY question any employee has.

EXCEPT for smoking...

My co-workers who smoke, take a 15 minute break every 1/2 hour. The 15 minute does not include leaving their desks and going down the elevator in the 20 story building. It BEGINS when they walk just outside the front doors of the building, which is a violation as people are not allowed to smoke within 25 feet of the building. I watch my fellow co-worker smokers 'light up' when they are inside the building, 10-25 feet from the front door.

They are paid to smoke, because they are never at their desk or office! Including supervisors and managers.

In 25 years of employment, I went to HR and ASKED! about my smoking co-workers. HR says that they have a "sickness," and other words so they are ALLOWED to take as many breaks as they want.

So I said, fine. I have been on FMLA for 19 years, have a heart condition, high blood pressure, diabetes, open heart surgery; twice, and major foot surgery due to a serious accident. I will start taking a 15 minute break every hour.

The first day I did it, I was called to HR and written up for abusing my breaks. My condition, apparently, is not as serious as someone who decides to smoke.

I look at many places on the internet, trying to find a straight answer as to WHY HR Departments allow smokers to take several breaks all day long, with NO answer any where.

Even HR advice sites on the internet, concern themselves with giving new hire interviews, but will not :touch" questions about smokers.

Do you know why is that?

Answer
Hi David,

I don't know why HR sites don't adequately summarize smoking in the workplace.  

In general terms, though, smokers are NOT considered a protected class under the
American Disabilities Act. Therefore, employers arenít legally obligated to provide smoke rooms or smoke breaks to employees.  Employers do have discretion to allow paid smoke breaks.

In my opinion, employers who allow smokers more breaks than non-smokers are creating an unfair workplace environment and could possibly face liability for discrimination against non smokers.  Thus, in my opinion, your HR folks erred when they wrote you up for taking the same breaks as smokers, and they erred when terming smoking a "sickness."   In fact, under certain circumstances, diabetes is covered under the American Disability Act.

My advice:  get a free consultation with an employment attorney and discuss this situation, the write up and your rights.  Once you get that information, you can decide if you should push for equal rights.

Take care; I wish you well.

Alice J. Bogert  

Dealing with Employees

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Alice Bogert

Expertise

Today's workplace is filled with many issues that impact employee performance and add to workplace stress. I have many years experience supervising employees and can field questions for both management staff and non-management staff related to employee conflicts, employee-boss issues, time management, negotiation skills, preparing employee performance evaluations, developing resources, generation X and Y issues, and cultural diversity.

Experience

I am a retired law enforcement officer, and I teach training classes around the country for law enforcement. I am also a consultant/trainer to private industry teaching numerous management development and supervisory courses. I teach report writing at a local junior college where I am an adjunct faculty member. I've also worked as a substitute teacher for grades K-12 and private tutor. I've been a facilitator for Volunteers in Victim Assistance, helping citizens/employees deal with community or work related traumas, and I've worked with abused and neglected children.

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