Tower Hamlets employees walked out when the policy was introduced
A local authority has set a precedent by telling staff who smoke to make up the time they spend on cigarette breaks.
The move by London Borough of Tower Hamlets sparked a protest when about 500 Tower Hamlets staff walked out on the day the policy was introduced last week.
But Ian Wilson, corporate director at the authority, said the organisation was blazing a trail for other employers, including the private sector. He added that HR professionals will increasingly be called on to placate the “smouldering resentment” of non-smoking staff who believe smokers enjoy a shorter working day.
Wilson predicts the private sector will follow the public sector by adopting similar policies. He said the HR department played a key part in drawing up a staff questionnaire and organised eight consultation meetings as part of a routine review of the smoking policy. The questionnaire was returned by 1,200 of the authority’s 10,000 workforce, with two-thirds backing the policy.
Wilson said, “At consultation meetings, non-smokers said repeatedly they didn’t see why cigarette breaks should mean smokers have a shorter working day than everyone else.”
Although he acknowledges that smokers feel victimised by the ban, he said the majority of employees feel it is fair that time should be made up. He said unions might find they were out of step with their members in supporting a minority.
Staff will be required to make up the time within a two week period, in line with existing flexible-working arrangements.
Any breaches of the new policy will be dealt with by existing disciplinary procedures, although legal advice is that changes to contracts will not be needed.
By Helen Rowe