The ban on smoking in all enclosed public spaces will lead to a flood of legal claims from workers if employers fail to observe the ban, lawyers have predicted.
The ban, which comes into effect in summer 2007, includes all enclosed smoking rooms within companies, although the ban will be felt most by the hospitality trade, where bosses must ensure staff have a smoke-free environment.
Pubs, bars or restaurants that allow smoking to continue once the ban comes into force will face fines of up to 2,500 and legal experts are now anticipating a raft of claims from employees.
David Appleton, an employment partner at law firm Lewis Silkin, said staff still being exposed to smoke after next summer should not be afraid to take legal action.
“This law will plug a major gap in health and safety legislation,” he said. “The difference between exposing staff to asbestos and the carcinogenic effects of tobacco smoke has always been illusory, in my opinion.
“The pressure is now on for employers to compromise customer ‘rights’ in favour of those of their staff. I predict a wave of whistleblowing claims as staff are victimised for exposing their bosses for turning a blind eye to regulars who continue to light up,” he said.
Matthew Whelan, an employment solicitor with Speechly Bircham, said employers should start adapting their disciplinary procedures in preparation for the ban.
“No matter how much employers may relate to the objections of dissenting staff, they must make it clear that smoking must not take place on the premises, otherwise they may face harsh disciplinary sanctions,” he said.
TUC general secretary Brendan Barber hailed the ruling as a major victory that could help save thousands of lives.
“This is a major victory for the simple union principle that people at work should not have to breathe in toxins. This is a welcome gift for everyone who breathes second-hand smoke at work.”