is allowing smoke breaks unfair to non-smokers?

A reader writes:

How do I determine where the line is between enforcing policy and being a jerk?

Example: my workplace (a restaurant) has no policy for smoke breaks. But it DOES have a policy where you get a 10 minute break for every 4 hours you work, and a half hour for every 6 hours you work (it amounts to a break every 2 hours, more or less). I feel that every two hours is a fine amount for smoke breaks. However, many managers (including myself, up until now) have allowed smokers to go outside on short, informal breaks (5 mins or less, on the clock) to smoke if its particularly slow, if they ask to.

I take issue with this, because I don’t think it’s fair. The people who take smoke breaks are also mostly on the night crew, and there are smokers during the day who don’t get extra breaks because they don’t ask for them. Plus, non-smokers don’t get to just stand outside and get fresh air for a couple minutes either. And even if its slow, labor cutbacks have made it so there is ALWAYS more work that needs to be done.

I’ve discussed this issue with my manager, and she says she’ll back me (in the form of not allowing smoke breaks on HER shift) if I decide not to allow smoking breaks any more, but she didn’t seem to give any indication of making a change in policy.

Mainly it’s just tough because 1) we’ve allowed them up until now, and 2) I know I’ll feel like a jerk if I say no, because people only ask when we’re slow or just got out of a big rush. Is this something I should bother with?

In an office environment or other environment where breaks aren’t scheduled, I’d say just set a high bar for performance and expect people to meet it; establish a fast-paced, high-productivity culture; and keep your focus on whether or not people are getting impressive results … and then you can ignore what types of breaks they do or don’t take, because you’re focused on how they’re actually performing.

But in environments where it actually makes sense to schedule breaks, like restaurants, I’m not sure that approach applies.

I do think that if you’re going to have a policy that dictates breaks, then you have to apply that policy fairly and evenly. (However, you also want to make sure that it makes sense to have that policy in the first place. I’m going to assume for the sake of this question that dictating breaks makes sense, serves the best interests of the company, etc. — which includes things beyond short-term interests, like making sure you can attract and retain good people.) In any case, if you have the policy, you either enforce it across the board or you revisit a policy and find one that better reflects your goals as a manager. In this case, that means that you either don’t make exceptions for smokers or you rework the policy in a way that permits smoke breaks without giving the smokers something special that the non-smokers don’t get. (For instance, maybe anyone can step away for a few minutes when it’s slow, whether it’s to smoke, get fresh air, make a phone call, or anything else.)

But I agree with you that it’s unfair to simply have a smoker exception.

What do others think?

{ 119 comments… read them below }

  1. TLColson*

    Think about the moments that your non-smokers stand around and shoot the breeze, or make a personal call – usually it all works out in the end.

    I say focus on performance, and not worry about who’s getting what and which way is “fair or not fair” – EVERYONE slacks off occasionally – smokers and non-smokers alike. The smokers are just more obvious about it, since they are off the floor.

    If the smoke breaks get obnoxious, then cut back on an individual basis. Don’t kill all employees because one is annoying you.

    (18 years in industrial HR)

    1. Not horking up tar*

      And those SMOKERS shoot the breeze,make personal calls, etc, AS WELL AS TAKE SEVERAL BREAKS DURING THE DAY!

      How is this fair to non-smokers again?

      1. Richard*

        Jesus, is this topic still going on?

        In summary:
        No, it is not fair if smokers are given more break time than non smokers.

        It is not fair to blame smokers for this inequality, however. It is down to management to come up with a break policy that covers everybody, and to stick to it. Either enforce break time and come down on people who take too many breaks, smoking or otherwise, or there’s my personal favourite; allow everybody to manage their time and take breaks on their own volition, and measure their performance based on their work, rather than their time at the desk – which can still be easily wasted, in my experience; hell, the number of times I’ve come up with solutions to a problem whilst grabbing coffee or bumping into somebody and shooting the breeze are incredible – This way, people can take as many breaks as they want, whether they’re grabbing a coffee or having a smoke, and people are actually having their work judged by measures that matter.

        Screaming at the pigeons does not stop them from crapping on your car. Likewise, shaking your fist at smokers and making angry noises is equally pointless; you’re taking your anger out on the wrong people, and it’ll have little effect – they didn’t write the break policy, they’re simply taking advantage of it. If you want to see changes to break policy, then it needs to come from above.

        1. SlackerInc*

          I see that you are coming at this from the white collar angle. Sure, in that office environment creative “work” may well happen when out on a smoke break. Additionally, a white collar worker (assuming they are not manning a phone or reception desk or something along those lines) can be judged on their overall productivity rather than being expected to clock in a certain number of hours at their desk per day.

          But neither of those things is true for restaurant work, which is what the original question was about and what my comments relate to.

          1. Richard*

            Since today we seem to be revisiting old posts…

            Read all of my comment, as I presented two options: Establish and enforce a strict break policy for all employees, or allow for free breaks and judge them based on their work.

            Obviously, the latter doesn’t apply for service jobs, such as restaurant work, since a certain number of employees employees need to be consistently available to man the floor. The former applies though; apply a strict break policy, and come down on those who don’t follow it.

        2. Anonymous*

          Your right
          The employer should 15 minutes off there pay a shift
          smoker or not the would have same amount of breaks

  2. Anon*

    It always bothered me, as a non-smoker, when I worked with smokers who got to take extra breaks. It was often 15 minutes or more extra they took each time, which adds up! It also happens across industries, not just in restaurants, and they go in groups and chat so the non-smokers end up feeling like they’re left out of important office socializing if a higher-up is involved (there’s an episode of Friends about this where Rachel takes up smoking to be able to gain more sway).

    1. Susan*

      Anon – great TV reference! Why not just rename them phone breaks that way smokers and non-smokers get the same treatment (no more than 5 mins)?

      As a non-smoker, this has always bothered me too. Where I worked, they were always gone at least 10 mins if not more and that didn’t count as their “break.”

  3. Mike*

    Smokers never make personal calls? I can believe non-smokers might shoot the breeze the same amount of time as smokers, but not that smokers will say “oh, I smoke and he doesn’t, so it’s fair he can make more personal calls than I do.”

    I agree on the productivity culture thing, although I’m not sure how you measure such in a restaurant setting.

    When I were a lad in the military, non-smokers (the minority) quickly learned to take smoke breaks at the same time as everybody else, since otherwise you were more available for extra duties. Of course, everybody had the same smoke break at the same time, which doesn’t quite seem to be the situation for the person asking the question.

    Maybe encourage people to take their breaks at the same time? Non-allergic non-smokers could easily accompany the smokers outside. Allows the non-smokers to “just stand around outside and get some fresh air,” although some might complain that the air’s not so fresh when there’s smokers around.

  4. Slaten*

    Unless you’re getting complaints from non-smokers I say leave well enough alone. However, as a non-smoker I would want to know that it’d be okay for me to take a 5 minute “fresh air” break right along with that smoker…

  5. Kelly O*

    We’re actually having an ongoing issue with this in the office where I work. We have a department with a majority of smokers, and they are taking frequent breaks during the day. Normally it wouldn’t be an issue, but they’re all behind in their work, and I actually brought home a couple of hours worth of work tonight to help out.

    The only problem is even in this obvious crunch time – trying to close the accounting books for 2010 before a deadline next week – they are STILL taking frequent breaks to smoke. I normally don’t work in this department, but it’s an all-hands situation and several of us are pitching in to make this happen. It’s hard to really be sympathetic and help with a positive attitude when you’re bent over your desk trying to do your work and someone else’s and that person is heading downstairs for a smoke.

    In many places I’ve worked, particularly in the last six years or so, it’s a non-issue as most people are trying to quit smoking. At one office, we jokingly called it Positive Peer Pressure – if we could get them to avoid smoking during the day so many days out of the month, our manager allowed us all to leave a little early one Friday a month.

    Honestly, in this situation, I would have to seriously slack off to account for the same amount of time spent in the elevator and walking out to the smoking area (because lord knows they’re not taking the stairs.) Because we have no written policy, it keeps coming up, and the current attitude of “well maybe they’ll just start complying with our requests” seems to prevail.

  6. Anonymous*

    Smoking is not a right. People should learn to be more disciplined at the workplace, so if the OP decides on a policy for scheduled breaks, then they should implement one and enforce it.

    1. JR*

      I absolutely agree.

      If I had a habit of, say, eating candy bars uncontrollably, and took frequent breaks to indulge that habit, that would not viewed as dismissively as smoking. People would assume I had a problem and (hopefully) would talk with me about their concern.

      Before I get any kickback, sugar is just as addictive as nicotine. Why then is smoking “okay” while other indulgent behaviors are not? Is it just more socially acceptable?

  7. Joshua*

    Are they servers? If so, they are probably only getting a couple dollars an hour, so they aren’t really making out too much. If it’s a matter of work getting done, ten years in a restaurant lead me to doubt three non-smokers are cleaning the smokers’ tables to the point where the work is uneven.

    If they are other employees, make them clock out for 5 minutes. Give non-smokers the option of clocking out for 5 minutes if they want. Even if it turns out the smokers take more breaks, it’ll show in their pay, so nobody can say it’s unfair.

    1. Anonymous*

      i just want to know if its legal to not beable to take a smoke break or even go outside and should we have to clock out for a 15 min break if we been workin for 9 hrs thats only break we get

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            No federal law requires breaks. And if you’re hourly/non-exempt, you don’t have to be paid for breaks. Some states, however, do require breaks.

  8. TLColson*


    Smoking isn’t a right. Personal calls aren’t a right. Surfing the net isn’t a right. Talking with fellow employees about last night’s bowl game in the break room or at your desk isn’t a right.

    But if all you are worried about is “which behavior is attracting attention” you aren’t concentrated on what’s important – which is productivity.

    Everyone slacks. You slack, I slack. There are no exceptions.
    Deal with abusers individually. And THEN you won’t create an environment where you are more worried about enforcing a mile long set of “rules” than providing your customers with the service they deserve – and which provides your company with its revenue.

    And for employees who stress out because one person (or group) is getting more “privilege” than others…. you have two choices – ignore it and do the job you are paid to do – or find a better job. But I have to tell you – those annoyances will be there, just in a different form.

    Its called “life”.

    1. Jamie*

      Do you mean “everyone slacks” in the sense that at some point in each day we all do something non-work related while on the job? Because in that instance it’s true. I think a lot of us use the term slacking to indicate a pattern in which some people do less work than is required…and in that instance by no means does every one slack.

      I’m posting this now from work – not work related – while waiting for some data to compile. I had a 15 minute conversation yesterday with a work friend which was wholly unrelated to work. Slacking? Not to me. I haven’t taken a lunch break since the end of October and can’t remember the last time I worked less than an 11 hour day – add in weekends which I’ve been working lately and, no – I don’t feel guilty spending a few minutes reading a couple of blogs and posting.

      Those people who don’t even show up for the full requisite work week, and when at work spend time taking little breaks, socializing, etc. Those are slackers – and thank goodness they tend to be in the minority (at least in my experience.)

    2. Susan*

      Many non-smokers won’t even address the issue for fear of sounding petty; more than likely, they’ll revolt by doing less work, or slacking off more to make up for the smoke breaks they’re not getting, or just find other employment. I wouldn’t work somewhere where all employees weren’t treated equally, or where a class of people were given special privileges – certainly not a class that increased my health insurance costs.

  9. Brian*

    As a non-smoker, it’s never really bothered me. Of course it’s completely different for a salaried professional position. I might shoot the breeze occasionally but I’ve never taken an official break. Plus, when I shoot the breeze, I’m building relationships with other departments and that helps me get things done. Our work loads are all pretty even anyway. Come in late, go home early, smoke every 30 minutes – it doesn’t matter because you’ll make it up at some point. If you don’t pull your weight it will come up eventually. Our boss is 4 states away so he has no idea you smoke. He just knows you’re not as productive as everyone else and figures you suck:)

  10. Jennifer*

    A good friend of mine worked in an office where all the other Admin Assistants were smokers (she wasn’t). She had a good working relationship with her manager and, after about six years, went to him one day to say she wanted the next Friday off as a “smoke break day.”

    When he asked her about it she explained that she was the only AA who didn’t smoke, that the other AAs went for smoke breaks several times a day (in addition to their regular breaks) and that each time they went, it took about 10-15 minutes (depending on the elevators). She calculated it out that it was about a day a month that these women were on smoke breaks so she wanted to take the day all at one time. Surprisingly, her manager agreed and gave her the day off. Not only that, for the rest of the time she worked there, she got a Smoke Break Day each month.

  11. Claire*

    @Jennifer – love it! That is genius!

    As for the OP – you’re already heightened to the sensitivity of the issue. I would say you’re right in theory, but it might not work out in practice.

  12. anonarealius*


    Although I admire your candor (and the fact you attached your name to ‘I’m a slacker’) not everyone is a slacker. There are people with a work ethic, for the same of argument, let’s call them non-slackers. Non-slackers, (people at work, actually working, not taking advantage by stealing time), have a valid reason to be perturbed at an inequity in the workplace. Theft of time places a burden on the rest of the staff. Yes, it’s theft. Petty as it may be, if you’re being paid to work and follow those notorious rules, you shouldn’t be compensated to boldly break them day in and day out. But that’s when all those other rules kick in, right?

    I personally don’t care about an alleged addiction. I’m addicted to chocolate. My boss could care less. So I ask, why are smokers given more breaks than say, me? I’d like extra time to shop for chocolate and be paid for it. Oddly enough, my boss doesn’t buy into my chocolate addiction or feel compelled to pay me while I shop. This is a very real necessity for me and yet because so few have suffered from a chocolate addiction, the cause gets no press, perk or angry lawyer attention.

    Smokers have no more or less rights than non-smokers. They do, however, drive insurance rates into the ground along with their ashes. And my desire for chocolate. I mean, really, who wants to eat with smoke blowing in your face?

  13. Kimberlee Stiens*

    OP here!
    Wow, what a great discussion!
    OK, some thoughts based on what I’ve seen so far… First, I have to confess that those who take smoke breaks are often LESS productive, in general, than others. I mean, we’ve got a pretty good crew, but the people who want to go out to smoke in addition to their regular breaks tend to be the people checking their phones a lot, chatting instead of working, etc. So that, I think, is part of my issue. I contrast the night crew and their smoke breaks with one woman on our day crew, who works hard almost constantly (she DOES talk, a LOT, but still), and smokes during her designated break periods. So getting rid of smoke breaks may just be another way to squeeze a bit more productivity out of them.

    I LOVE the idea of a Smoke Break Day. Btw. :)

    And I do like the concept of making them clock out… it sort of solves the problem. Except that we have a punch-in timeclock that works in very specific ways, including not allowing you to punch back in if you’ve been out less than ten minutes, and I’m pretty sure that any 10 minute breaks are automatically paid, regardless of how many you take. :( So in a less rigid system, that would be good!

    And @TLColson, I have to say part of the reason I have an issue with this is because I’m NOT a slacker. I can’t say I’m on 100% all the time, but when I’m trying to get things done, and there’s a laundry list of items, and I’ve forgone all breaks in order to leave the restaurant a not-craphole for the person coming in next, I’m a little peeved on a personal level when someone wants to go smoke.

    I would like the idea of creating equity and allowing it, but people just don’t need to make phone calls or step out for air nearly as often as these people need cigarettes!

  14. Martin*

    I am fortunate to work for an employer which values it’s staff, in my industry that is rare! (I’ve worked in a lot of places, turn over is typically very high everywhere) My current employer awards 1 smoke break day every 6 months to the non smokers or those who don’t smoke in work time.

    In some of my previous companies I used to go out for the smoke breaks with the smokers because it was an invaluable way of finding out what was going on! (Not true at my current place of employment)

    1. Jamie*

      I have never heard of employers doing a smoke break day until these comments – it’s an interesting concept.

      I assume this would apply to smokers who don’t take smoke breaks, as well?

      I wonder if this could create a slippery slope as it could apply to things other than smoking. What about the people who come in each morning and spend their first half hour fixing and eating breakfast each day? Or those who routinely spend copious amounts of time chatting?

      If I did take smoke breaks and the breakfast-eaters/chatty cathys got an extra day off a month it could lead to everyone monitoring their co-workers use of time and I’m not sure that would be good for morale.

      It’s an interesting concept – I just don’t know how fairly it can be applied.

  15. Amy*

    I have a part-time retail job where smokers are frequently allowed to go out for a few minutes when it’s slow. As a non-smoker, I feel completely justified asking to go outside for a few minutes every now and then because of this practice that goes on with the smokers. The smoker who goes out most frequently is the company’s top sales person, by the way, and generates over $1 million in sales per year for the store. She’s earned her few minutes as far as I’m concerned and I don’t begrudge her that in the least.

  16. Joey*

    Focus on the work that needs to be done and the smoke break thing will take care of itself. You mentioned smokers ask for a smoke break when it’s slow, but you also said there’s always work to be done. So why not have them do that work and just make sure they get their breaks as stated in your policy.

  17. Jamie*

    I agree with those who say this isn’t about smoking – it’s about slacking (or not). The question should be whether anyone gets to take little additional breaks or not – not how they chose to spend those few minutes.

    Personally, I won’t go out for a cigarette break at work, if I really need one during the day I’ll run out and grab something for lunch and do it then. But I do know smokers who do and that’s fine – because their productivity is high. There are plenty of slackers (smokers and non) who bleed time all day long.

    For hourly employees I think it would be best to enforce it equally – however you decide – as long as smoking doesn’t get anyone extra privileges it shouldn’t matter.

  18. Dawn*

    I am a non-smoker and I admit, it used to drive me crazy to see the smokers go out for a smoke break almost hourly, while I’m at my computer working (I no longer work in an office that has any smokers).

    I managed a smoker at one time. She went outside at least three times a day, sometimes for 20 minutes at a clip because there was another smoker, a male, she could chat with. Finally I told her that she needs to keep it to 5 minutes, no more, because her productivity was low and higher-ups were starting to comment on the her time outside.

    At the time, she was my only direct-report. I do manage a few more people now, but none of them are smokers. If I managed a smoker and a non-smoker, I would allow the non-smoker the same amount of time to just take a walk, or whatever. I might even consider the Smoke Break Day (awesome idea, BTW). I’ve been in that boat and hated the feeling that I was stuck inside working while the others were outside have liesure time.

  19. a. brown*

    When I was a waitress, we didn’t get breaks. Or at least, the non-smokers didn’t. A smoke break was a valid reason to go outside, even if there was work to be done. So while they chilled outside, I was doing their work. I got pretty pissed about it, but taking a break outside for 5 minutes NOT smoking would have been awkward. I felt like their bad habit was a perk for them, and more work for me.

    But it’s different in an office environment– so I say instate a Non-smoker vacation day. I’m owed quite a few of those!

  20. Anonymous*

    For anyone peeved about having to pick up the slack for the smokers who take frequent smoke breaks, don’t stress about it – you’re likely to live a good ten, twenty, or even thirty years longer than the smokers…

  21. Heather*

    I always had an issue with this. I worked in the food service industry for over 6 years, and I never smoked. It’s not that I don’t think smokers should or shouldn’t get breaks (not my place to say-either way it is legal), but it was always they seemed to get more breaks. They could step outside for a quick one, and since we were still busy, I couldn’t go sit down and make a phone call. Whenever their tables were “taken care of” they would go outside. I would always stay inside and help out as much as I good until I got my whole 30 minute break. If I wanted to step outside for a bit, the managers would ask what I was doing and be upset, because there wasn’t a reason for it! How come they get the few minutes to themselves and I don’t?

    1. Mike*

      It wasn’t the smoker’s decision that you shouldn’t get small breaks, it was the decision of your management. They are the problem here, not your coworkers.

  22. KellyK*

    I think there’s a balance between making it fair and equal and treating individual situations as they come up. That is, as long as people are getting their work done and getting the breaks they *need*, it matters less whether their break minutes are identical. Like, if I’m in pain and need to sit down for five minutes, or really need a bathroom break, I would completely resent having to work through that while the smokers go out. But if I’m getting what I need, the smokers are keeping their breaks reasonable, and I’m not stuck with their work, I figure it’s okay.

    It sounds like a big part of the problem is that the individuals who ask for smoke breaks are less productive in general. So non-smokers probably *are* getting stuck with their work and are likely to resent it. You might want to talk to people you’re having productivity issues with and tell them that they need to quit checking their phones, or get tasks x, y, and z done before they take another break.

    In general, I think it would make sense to let everyone know that they can ask for a quick on-the-clock break during a slow time. Doesn’t matter if it’s to smoke, stretch their legs, or whatever. Point out that these breaks are supervisor-approved, not automatic and are dependent on how busy it is at the time and how much they’ve been getting done. Also remind people that they should make sure they take care of anything they need to do–eat, smoke, go to the restroom–on their scheduled breaks, since they aren’t guaranteed additional ones. Sure, you’ll allow them when it’s feasible, but it may not always be.

    Another thing that might help is to start assigning those tasks that “always need to be done” as soon as the slow period hits. Someone who has something to work on may be less likely to ask for a break, or they might get a break when they finish it.

  23. Prairie Dog*

    FULL DISCLOSURE: I’m a (hopefully) soon-to-be ex-smoker. But I’ve always tried to be conscientious of how my habit impacts others, so I hope my opinions here aren’t perceived as being too biased. I’m also a salaried, full-time professional who gets two breaks and a lunch each day.

    A few observations/comments:

    1) I’m impressed by the level-headedness of these comments. Usually whenever the topic of smoking comes up your bound to get at least one person jumping right into something like “It’s smoking! They’re horrible people!! WHO CARES WHAT THEY THINK!!! AAARRRGGGGHHHHH!!!!!!!!111111111111eleventy!!!!!1″…and so forth. Not here. Furthermore, I like that most folks are recognizing that the real issue is “slacking,” and not necessarily the activity itself. And that’s what makes me inclined to comment.

    2) Smokers are visible and easy targets, particularly when it comes to accusations of “slacking.” Our habit relegates us to a cordoned off section outside the loading dock or, in the olden days, a lounge. People see this and automatically assume (often times fueled by their distaste for the habit) that simply taking that smoke break means we’re somehow “stealing” from the company, whether or not we’re doing it on a scheduled break. Some time back my manager shared with me that people (outside of my department that neither he or I ever worked with directly) had commented on “how often” they seemed to see me smoking. “Oh really?” I asked. “Did they also comment on how I usually come in an hour early? Or how I haven’t taken a lunch in weeks? Or that three of the last five days I’ve stayed late for conference calls with the West Coast? Or how I had to come in to work on my last two scheduled vacations? Or how I spent all last Sunday working from home?” Her answer was that was none of their business. “Exactly,” I said. End of conversation. But it also brought to light, which she acknowledged, that people like to pick on the smokers because they can see what we’re doing. They can’t pick on the people who sit at their desk all morning reading the newspaper, balancing their check books or clipping their toe nails (yes…that happens around here). Point being that if what you’re really worried about is people not getting their work done, there’s a whole population of folks other than smokers that need to be scrutinized as well.

    3) Smoking does not necessarily equal slacking. I can’t stress this enough. Again, back in the olden days, we had a sealed off lounge with a smoke-eater where all the smokers would go. There were chairs and tables. And most of the people that went there brought work with them. There were impromptu meetings. Things actually got done! It got to the point where the lounge had become such an extension of people’s work areas that some of the smokers who came in there simply to light up and socialize were asked to keep it down. Even nowadays, when the smokers all huddle in a small spot outside, there’s still a lot of things being accomplished that don’t get done when you spend your day at your desk never talking to anyone unless they’re five feet away from you or accessible via phone or e-mail. Smokers come from all departments. So when my co-workers are spending hours waiting to for a return call to determine who the appropriate contact person is to have this or that done, I’m chatting with Steve from IT and have most of the answers in minutes. Many of my direct co-workers, as well as my manager, have no idea who to go to for what in this company, and often turn to me because they know I’ve established contacts in the smokers’ hole. Don’t get me wrong: none of this is to encourage folks to smoke ’em if you got ’em as a way to the top. Rather, it’s just to point out just how inaccurate the assumption that someone smoking is someone slacking can be.

    4) I agree with the folks that see the “Smoke Break Day” as a potential problem. Slackers come in all shapes and sizes. Some smell like a pack of Lucky Strikes and others have ink-stained hands from all the newspapers they’re reading. A Smoke Break Day ultimately comes down to saying that some forms of slacking are better than others, and will end up with people spending more time monitoring their co-workers looking for inequity in the policy than, you know, actually doing work!

    5) Finally, and most importantly, smoking is a bad habit I wish I’d never picked up. I’m not trying to defend it here, but simply add my insight on this topic, which I think has more to do with appropriate management than smoking itself.

    That is all.

    1. Chuck*

      So what you are saying actually is, smoking got you where you are today. Another person’s time is not as important as yours. If you smoke then you are actually working. If you are at your desk then you are probably slacking. Nobody works as hard as the smokers, even in their liesurely time taking drags off their newports they are still putting their company first, they aren’t sating a habit, well they are damn near making the compant money by spending hours outside a day, and all people do is just pick on the poor smokers. Boo-Hoo, give me a break. Look the fact is, it is an awful habit and we reward people for doing it. Society sets them above everyone else. If I had a heroin addiction and needed 30 minutes a day to cook my black tar in a spoon and inject it into myself, I am pretty positive that wouldn’t be allowed. Nicotine is a drug, you started smoking because of the relaxed calm it gave you (I.E. it got you high). As time progresses you begin to smoke more and need more. If this was black tar heroin you would eventually overdose. However you smoke cigarettes and it is very hard to O.D. on Nicotine in such a small dose. So that being said, you are doing drugs. You are rewarded for your poor character choices. You then come to a forum and cry about how you are not treated equally when in all honesty you are given more rights than a normal employee. My favorite part is this “And that’s what makes me inclined to comment.” We are so happy you decided to comment on this post. We can just end the thread now because the master has spoken. Thank you for coming down off your cloud of perfectness and shining a light on this problem. If you do not like that non-smokers are given smoke break days then stop taking smoke breaks. You talked about coming in an hour early and all that other crap, well good job maybe that equates to the amount of time you have went outside and effectively shot up. Quit being stupid, and acknowledge that you are as unproductive as any other non-functioning smoker, because if you literally cannot go through an entire day let alone a few hours without a cigarette that is exactly what you are “non-functioning” . If I can’t crack a beer at work (wouldn’t anyways because I don’t have a ridiculous addiction) then you shouldn’t be able to smoke.

        1. Chuck*

          It is actually not a troll it is exactly how I feel. I am also sure that it is how many other non-smokers feel.

  24. Mike*

    There are really only two issues here – fairness and productivity.

    Treat your employees like adults. Make your productivity expectations clear, and so long as they meet them, who cares if they take a break every so often when it’s slow? If non-smokers are productive why aren’t they taking a break too?

    There are many in this thread who are bragging about constantly missing (legally required in many states) breaks and working 11 hour days and acting like they’re somehow morally superior than their coworkers. Knock it off, you aren’t. The only reason you’re working so long is because you have terrible management, are unproductive yourself or you hate spending time with your families. None of these are moral virtues.

    1. SlackerInc*

      Best comment on the thread, by far. I wish Americans had more of a European attitude about work/life balance (it does seem like the millennial generation is heading more in this direction, thankfully, although high unemployment is likely to hurt their cause in the short run at least).

      My two cents: a lot of the people commenting are referencing office type work (probably salaried), which is completely different. The OP referenced hourly wage, shift work at a restaurant. In those circumstances, the situation is clearly unfair to the nonsmokers. The fry cook and waitress aren’t accomplishing anything while they chat out by the dumpster except making themselves smell bad when they get back inside. But as one commenter noted, if you don’t smoke and you just go out and have a “fresh air” break for the same amount of time, you’re likely to get in trouble with management because you don’t have an actual “reason” to go out. Stating “fairness” as your reason is, sadly, likely to make management see you as some kind of Bolshevik agitator who should probably be canned before you start a union or something. As with many things in life, there’s safety in numbers: as long as smokers have the numbers (and in restaurant work and other blue collar fields, they still often do), they are going to be accommodated. If all nonsmokers habitually stuck up for the issue of fairness, they’d have to be accommodated too; but most won’t do it and thus those who do will stick out as I said and come across to management as surly troublemakers.

      I had relationships with two different women (years apart and in different states) who actually started smoking because they worked as waitresses and it was the only way they could get a break! That’s just so wrong; and of course even after they moved on to other jobs they couldn’t kick the nicotine habit.

    2. Slaten*

      I used to work for a company where if you weren’t working through your breaks and skipping lunch you obviously weren’t as good as your co-worker that was. This company actually has a work/life balance “policy”…. unfortunately if you didn’t work 50-60 hour weeks (exempt) don’t expect anything above an average review or promotion.

      LOTS of bad managers at that company. I’m very happy that I don’t work there any longer.

  25. Richard*

    I am a smoker, however I agree that smokers should not get any more breaks than other employees; such an environment is only going to create tension between those working hard, and those taking advantage of these breaks.

    But I agree that this is a problem with management, rather than those employees – A proper policy regarding breaks needs to be established, it doesn’t even need to make mention of smoking, it just has to say that breaks are at allotted times for an allotted period, meaning that employees who are taking extra breaks to go and smoke can be handled by management appropriately.

    Kimberly; the reason that you are seeing most of the ‘slackers’ take more smoke breaks is probably because slackers will happily take advantage of any time away from work that they can get away with; slackers will slack, after all.

    Just be careful not to paint all smokers with the same ‘slacker’ brush; as I mentioned before, I smoke, but I personally have never taken extra breaks to do so, and make an effort to avoid smoking at work altogether.

  26. Gene*

    The action I took when it became a problem around our office (local municipality) was, when the somkers would get up to take their smoke break, I sat back and took out a book. When they returned, I put away the book and went back to work. When one of the smokerrs complained I explained to the supervisor exactly when I was reading and it was dropped. But contractually required breaks were more strictly adhered to after that.

    I moved to another office and still see the same core group of smokers standing outside. Not my problem anymore.

  27. Marie*

    I disagree with the people in this thread who claim that all smokers are slackers – that’s a stupid thing to say, and it’s not true. No, I’m not a smoker (never have been), but my father smoked, and he was one of the hardest-working people ever. My dad, who successfully ran his own company, had a VERY strong work ethic, and he demanded the same from his employees.

  28. Marie*

    An addendum: The other posters in this thread have not addressed the following issue: smoking is addictive, meaning that a smoker has an urgent physical craving for a cigarette. That’s the reason why smokers feel the need to take a break, not laziness!

  29. Kimberlee Stiens*

    I really don’t care that smoking is addictive. Its a personal choice and it won’t kill them to wait until their break. If waiting makes them irritable or more stressed out, then that just emphasizes that the employee is making a personal choice that is impacting their work. No sympathy for an addiction.

    1. Richard*

      I think that the point being made was that not every smoker is just avoiding work.

      Allison has pointed out that some work environments are suited towards small unscheduled breaks, some workplaces even encourage it – research or programming environments spring to mind, as quite often you get your best epiphanies regarding your work during a small break from your screen – but not all smokers are slackers, as a few have pointed out.

      I do agree that the service industry is not a suitable environment for unscheduled breaks, however; I personally think that if people want to smoke at work, then they should stick to whatever break policy is in place, and that in an environment where you are in constant demand, a strict break policy and it’s enforcement is the responsibility of management. If employees are taking additional breaks and avoiding work in the process when they should be constantly available outside of scheduled breaks, it’s up to management to handle those employees accordingly, whether it be with warnings, or terminating their employment if they’re unable to deal with working in an environment that demands them to stick to their allotted downtime.

  30. Marie*

    Kimberlee, as I said, smokers take breaks due to their physical craving, and not out of laziness. Yes, taking up smoking in the first place is a personal choice – after all, no one is forced to start smoking – but to say you have no sympathy for addicts shows you seem to be quite callous and lacking in compassion. Very sad, my dear.

    1. Anonymous*

      It seemed clear to me that Kimberlee meant that it’s not a reason to give them special treatment that non-smokers aren’t also getting, that the fact that it’s addictive has nothing to do with the question of how to handle it fairly. I’m sure she has sympathy for addicts in general, but it can’t come into play in how a manager handles this.

      1. Kimberlee Stiens*

        Exactly, Anonymous. Its not that I don’t have sympathy for them at all, it just that its not like a herion addiction, where not getting some could just kill you. A person chooses to start smoking, they make the same choice every time they pick up a cigarette. I have no obligation to protect self-destructive, optional behavior. If they want to smoke, they can smoke… during designated break times which, as I’ve mentioned, are already roughly one every two hours.

        Plus, there are tons of opportunities at my workplace for people to just step away for a moment. You don’t have to ask permission to get a drink, for instance, you just do it when you have an extra moment. I don’t have a problem with people hopping back to the break room to have a drink, check their texts, whatever, as long as its like a minute or two. I think having that kind of personal autonomy at work is important. But when you have to go outside to do whatever you’re doing, its more of a problem, which is why I think I’d have difficulty implementing a policy where you could step outside for a moment and smoke, or not smoke. When you’re on the clock, I need you to be accessible at a moment’s notice, unless you’re outside taking out trash or something.

    2. SlackerInc*

      I think it’s widely understood that smokers take smoke breaks because they are addicted. This is why those breaks are tolerated by management, when frequent breaks to have some fresh air or make phone calls would not be. But a side benefit of taking those addiction breaks is that the smokers get to stop working, maybe chat with others, but at the very least have a moment of reflection doing something they do enjoy (even if it’s an addiction, for a smoker standing outside and smoking is generally more enjoyable than working their butt off inside a hot kitchen).

      As I mentioned in my comment, this side benefit is attractive enough that people actually start smoking to be able to enjoy it. How is that fair to anyone?

      It does seem like taking them off the clock would solve a lot of the issue, but the OP’s time clock apparently won’t accommodate this.

  31. Cassandra*

    You need to lay out and enforce the same policy for everyone. If you allow ‘smoke breaks’ then you should allow the same breaks for other employees. Otherwise, at some point you could be charged with disparate impact discrimination. At least if you are sued for disparate impact you have the defense that you applied the same policy across the board.

  32. Eric*

    When I worked at McDonalds as a teen – when it was slow, all of us could ask “to get a drink” … which was a micro break, you get a small cup of soda, and go to the back of the store or go outside. It was understood that if it got busy, you were to dump your drink and get back to the counter. Some people used this as a time for a quick nicotine fix. These were separate from the officially scheduled breaks.

    A little 5 minute or less break is a great tool for getting your head back in the game. I don’t recall if this was an officially McD policy, or just one that our store used.

  33. Anonymous*

    This is a GREAT topic. I believe it is a very different situation whether you are in an office or a restaurant as a server. I also believe it makes a big difference in what type of restaurant you work at. I am a strong advocate of not taking smoke breaks while you currently are serving tables. If you step out for 5-10 minutes, your table could very easily need something from you and you are not there to accommodate them. That results in bad service and reflects bad on the company.

    I am a non-smoker and I have worked in a couple different restaurants: one that allowed smoke breaks and one that didn’t. I could personally care less that smokers step outside for a break while I’m doing my work. The thing that concerns me the most in the restaurant business is when smokers come in from their smoke break and smell like an ashtray then continue to help their tables. If the tables they are helping are non-smokers then they can clearly smell the aroma on their server and it can be very unpleasant to them.

    If you don’t allow smoke breaks in a restaurant then people won’t take them and they will wait. It’s as simple as that.

  34. Kelly*

    I have some strong feelings on the issue being a non-smoker who worked for several years in retail environments with a large percentage of smokers. However, especially in the service industry, it’s up to management to set a policy that doesn’t favor one group over the other.

    At one place where I worked for two and a half years, they banned smoking on store grounds about a year before I started. They also allowed only scheduled breaks where you could eat, make personal phone calls and go out to smoke. That meant that you had to go to your car to smoke. It was an irritant to many especially during the winters, but it was a fair and consistent policy. It was their choice if they chose to go out in the cold for their nicotine fix.

    The other place’s policy was set by the department manager. My manager was a smoker, so he gave the smokers more leeway. I often work the night shift with a girl who was a chain smoker. It wasn’t unusual for her to take four or five smoke breaks on the clock in the evening. It irritated me because her breaks would sometimes be almost 20 minutes and she was the only other person I could page. I didn’t get any extra break while on the clock. I thought about bringing a book and taking as many reading breaks as she took smoking breaks. I really didn’t think it would change the policy, but it would make a point. I don’t think that policy will change unless store management modified the policy since I left.

    I think another issue to bring up is perception both by customers and coworkers. It looks unprofessional when you see employees in work uniforms outside the entrance of their building smoking. I think that was the main reason that my first employer banned smoking on the grounds. Also, smokers have an odor to them and to most people, it’s an unpleasant one. Many people also have allergies that indirect exposure to second hand smoke can irritate. The same arguments can be made about wearing cologne and perfume but their scent isn’t as pervasive as cigarette smoke.

    I’m glad I no longer work in an environment where there are a large number of smokers. It has its own time sucks, most notably some people who are better at socializing than working and internet access, but it’s better for my health being in an environment where I am not exposed to second hand smoke.

  35. The gold digger*

    I never cared about the smoke breaks other people took, but I sure did mind that the company paid $X toward dependent medical coverage for married employees. Basically, being married meant you got paid more. That has always struck me as horribly unfair.

  36. Nigel Fistybuns*

    Jeezy Creezy, people! Life is inherently unfair. It’s unfair that my managers get paid more than me. It’s unfair that women get maternity leave, and I don’t because I’m a man. It’s unfair that top performers don’t get nagged for taking extra time on their lunch breaks. It’s unfair that the woman I work next to gets to blab to her aunt (who also works for the company) for half an hour every day about some crap her kid did. But apparently, if I take one extra ten minute break to smoke a cigarette, all of a sudden I’m a shiftless slacker with no impulse control and a vicious disdain for my common man.

    This isn’t about slacking, or smoking… It’s about your unconscionable need to tell other people what to do. So back the hell off already, and focus on your own work. I’ve already got one mother, and that’s already one more than I need.

  37. Kimberlee Stiens*

    @The Gold Digger: I agree! I think that if you have the option to have your spouse covered, you should have the option to have any other individual covered. Now, if its not free, and you have to pay a monthly fee each, that might be different. But in general, I agree.

    @Nigel: Of course, I disagree. Maybe in an office, where people have a set amount of work to do and you grade people’s productivity on the amount and quality of that work they complete, that might be true. Some places do give maternity leave to men. It’s not unfair that your managers get paid more than you do; they are higher up than you, and have presumable earned it.

    But I wouldn’t stand for people blabbing on the phone either. As I mentioned, I work at a fast food place that has had MAJOR labor cutbacks. As in, so major that we literally cannot do all the things we’re supposed to do every day and still serve food. I’m ok with an employee jumping to the back real quick and getting a drink, but that takes like 40 seconds, tops, and I can get them back on the floor quickly. Every smoke break represents 5 or 10 minutes of work not being done, that will not get done. Same with people on the phone, we just don’t have that problem. I refuse to let my shift run badly just because “life is unfair.” I have the power to make it fair!

  38. Elaine*

    When I worked in an office for a large manufacturing company, they instituted a no smoking in the building policy. All the smokers had to go outside. So every hour, the group would walk through all the office areas, picking up their smoker friends, and then go outside and smoke. EVERY HOUR! They would take at least 15 minutes, six times a day, plus their regular morning break, lunch break, and afternoon break. Is it any wonder the non-smokers complained?

    Plus they would come in stinking to high heaven. Honestly, you could smell them way before you could see or even hear them.

    I’m allergic to tobacco smoke, and still can’t stand being around people who have been smoking. I won’t even allow smokers in my house.

    One employer in my hometown won’t allow tobacco use anywhere on the premises, including the parking lot. The smokers have to drive off the property to smoke. I wish all employers could/would do that.

  39. Sara Anderson*

    I’d compare it to a bathroom break – it’s something biologically-important that an individual can manage to a certain extent, but needs to be taken care of. I’m a nonsmoker myself, but I understand that everyone has their own issues – if nicotine addiction is one, then it’s just one of the things you have to deal with.

    1. Dawn*

      But, really, nicotine addiction is a choice. A person can’t choose not to use the bathroom. A person CAN choose to quit smoking. Yes, I know it’s hard (I have three relatives trying to quit right now), but it can be done.

  40. Chris*

    I think this could all be solved if people weren’t being paid hourly, or on fixed salary.
    Granted in some businesses it’s not feasible, but if employee earnings were calculated from a portion of the profits made by the company and they were free to spend the time on it as they saw fit as long as the deadlines were met, it would be better than telling them to work ‘from 9-5’ like machines.
    The last company I worked for did this and by God I have never seen a more productive bunch of people in my life.

  41. Debra*

    Thank you T.L. Colson!!! Smokers and non Smokers…Listen up! Its called tolerance! You may wear perfume, and i dont like it cuz it stinks!…You may drink too much,have bad breath, or have political view points different from mine….but before any 1 says “second hand smoke kills” i will say…”drinking and driving kills”…I dont walk up to a complete stranger in a bar and say “You shouldnt drink”…but its okay for a non smoker to walk up to me and say “You shouldnt smoke”…? Its called CLASS! !!! TOLERANCE IS BEAUTIFUL, AND WHY THE HECK IS POTSMOKING BECOMING MORE AND MORE ACCECTABLE LATELY????? …whaaaa thats somehow better than cigarettes? really? NOT!!! wake up and ask yourself why!!?? hmmm??

  42. Georgie*

    There was actually some studies done about doing personal things during work hours. Taking personal breaks, checking personal emails, surfing the internet, or making personal phone calls actually made workers more productive as they were more satisfied with their jobs, but this is in a limited capacity of less than an hour a day. When I was in the Navy, we trained to time. We had a Chief petty Officer with no life so he kept us late, and aside from lunch, we never got a break with 11-13 hours days. Smokers had to walk to the top of the pier just to smoke and non-smokers didn’t get breaks at all. No wonder people were not satisfied with their jobs. Whjen I was in the Army, all of my jobs were trained to standard, not always train to time. What that meant was that wneh the job was done, we would sometimes be allowed to conduct personal business where sometimes it could only be done during business hours. Once in a while, we were let go early to go home and spend time with our families. This was especially important and popular before and after deployments to the Middle East. I loved the Army more for that. We were given more authority for our position over subordinates and high expectations of getting a job done, not working to reach a certain time. Now I’m a veteran and work for the State. My boss rarely bugs me, but she expects certain things to be done and knows I have lots of work. I email an electronic time sheet that breaks down how I spend my day. A monthly summary report on major projects shows the status of them and what has been achieved during that month. All of this justifies the budget for my position. She, nor the Director question what I am doing. At the same time I don’t take advantage of that fact, so I don’t give them a reason to question. In regards to most work circles, people should “train to standard”, not to time. In work circles like the restaurant industry or others who operate to that nature, you’re restricted by real time services, but there still should be some opportunity to show that you value all of your employees and allow them a few minutes throughout the day to conduct personal business, whether it be smoking, snacking, emailing, texting or phone calls. Place performance expectations and say, if they are more productive, maybe they can earn extra time to do that personal business. Your employees will be happier for it. Treat everyone the same and deal with issues individually. If someone is not performing or taking advantage, you’ll be able to tell very quickly. Just something you should consider trying. Give people a reason to be productive with a positive workplace. Justification of a job and a paycheck will only make a person work hard enough to not get fired, and micromanaging will create that environment.


    LOL you bunch of weaners!

    I smoke in work and so what ? How about you go grab a coffee or a snack for 5 mins maybe drink it outside? Just because your not smoking doesnt mean you cannot find a few mins solice of a day if reasonable too. All you managers walking round all day but not actually doing anything its easy to complain about production but the truth is a solid days work would kill most of you off! I work in wet frozen conditions handling steel at -5 deg average so if you think we dont deserve a few mins for a smoke and drink better think about it. Were not all namby pamby office/service workers and blanket statements crying ‘NO ONE SHOULD BE ALLOWED TO SMOKE WAAAA :(”’ ‘ make me laugh. Suck it up and get on with your own job/life and as long as workers do the work their asked stop making undue waves. I could complain chocolate bars are all small now because of fatties or health food options stop me eating a plate of nice greasy egg and chips. Too many of you want to micromanage other people when really your just as bad in your own ways. We have production machines where the operators know as long as that machine doesnt stop they can do as they please to smoke , drink, eat , call ect. Also its never been conclusively proven second hand smoke does damage. Cars and traffic increase carbon manoxide levels massively on busy streets so are you going to ask for the street to be closed to traffic before you walk along it? Your all going to die one day anyway and I doubt it will be because employee xyz took 5 mins for a smoke and you didnt get a donut as compensation!

    1. SlackerInc*

      So what about the two waitresses I dated who took up smoking so they could catch a break at work? The problem is not with smokers taking breaks (though they definitely should do it outside), it’s with nonsmokers who work in busy restaurants not being able to get the same amount of break time. Period.

      1. Richard*

        Which as we’ve covered before, is an issue with management and break policy; and as such it isn’t an issue that will be resolved by blaming smokers.

        1. SlackerInc*

          Where did I say the smokers are to blame? You’re right: the blame lies in management’s policy. But the origin of this unfair policy is a sense that since smokers are addicted to nicotine, they “have to” go smoke more frequently than their scheduled breaks. So they get more time to do something that is, in addition to satiating their addiction, a relaxing moment.

          Point is, this is unfair to nonsmokers and actually leads them to become smokers, which is really screwed up. The thing that is frustrating about it is that it’s just not likely to get better for the nonsmokers. Most restaurant managers are not going to tolerate nonsmokers taking a break they don’t “need” when it’s busy, but they’ll just grit their teeth and tolerate the “quick smoke” because they have enough workers who share the same addiction and who would quit if they stopped allowing it.

          So, okay: it’s not the smokers’ fault per se, but it puts them in a protected class of workers that the nonsmokers don’t get to be a part of, so surely you can see the resentment that would develop.


    I see plenty of non smokers go to get a drink or snack on an almost hourly basis or needing the toilet 12 times a day but TBH as long as anyones doing their work they should have done it is a more positive attitude for production in the long run and workers dont end up leaving to find better accomodating jobs. If your employer blatantly discriminates against non smokers as in you never get a few mins but smokers can then that kind of leaves them open to legal avenues. No job is worth being depressed about and contrary to belief you will be suprised how many employers try hard to work with their workforce to promote a good atmosphere.

  45. Miranda*

    The difference between making a call is its not an addiction. If you choose to smoke cigarettes than you can wait for a break. The non snmokers are making the right healthy choice so why should we have to stay in the office and hold down the fort for the smokers. Their the ones who chose to make a bad choice therefore they should not get special treatment. There should be a law only smoking on your lunch break. It is different then making a personal call or grabbing a chocolate bar becasue thats not considered frowned upon. Smoking is.

  46. Tiffany*

    I am a smoker and my coworkers have no idea that I am. I smoke on my lunch break and that is it. I work in a professional corporate environment for 9 hours a day. I would never ask to “take a smoke break” because it is not fair to the non smokers. I go home and smoke on my time. Let them know when they can take a break and they should only smoke at that time. Nothing extra because it is slow.

    1. Jamie*

      This. I just posted something similar, but long winded, on another thread.

      I do the same thing – lunch break (if that) and that’s it.

  47. Anonymous*

    Nicotine is a narcotic – granting smoke breaks is condoning, actually enabling the use of narcotics on the job.

    1. Richard*

      Nicotine is not a narcotic, what are you talking about?

      To summarise:
      The original meaning of the word ‘narcotic’ was a psychoactive compounds that have sleep-inducing properties. Which makes sense, ‘narco’ comes from the greek word ‘narkē’, meaning ‘numbness’, or ‘stupor’.

      However the word ‘narcotic’ has since been coined by people who have very little pharmaceutical knowledge as a catchall term for illegal or highly controlled drugs.

      Regardless though, nicotine is legal, so it falls under neither of these descriptions.

  48. Anonymous*

    I’d like to preface this by saying that I wish I’d never started smoking. I don’t think the non-smokers here have any idea what it’s like to be a smoker deprived of nicotine. I’m not defending smoking, or commenting about productivity, but I wish you could understand that it’s a very real, physical dependency that we have…People who compare this to “wanting chocolate” have no idea. The best way to describe it? Imagine being thirsty…more thirsty than you’ve ever been. Now imagine your bosses and coworkers telling you that there is a no-water policy. That is what being addicted feels like…your body is screaming for something. You feel it in your body, and in your mind. Many of us, if we had to chose between eating or having our cigarettes, we would chose cigarettes., which is why we smokers often skip lunch. You can judge all you want, and you are entitled to do so if the behavior of your smoking coworkers is affecting your productivity. All I’m trying to get across is that for us, we don’t enjoy the feeling of addiction, and it’s ridiculous to act so arrogantly when you haven’t a clue what it’s like.

    1. SlackerInc*

      I for one have not been saying the smokers shouldn’t get those breaks, only that nonsmokers should get the same amount of break time. Do you disagree with that?

  49. Amy*

    There is a lady at my work that smokes every hr for at least 10 mins, that’s at least 80 mins a day that she is smoking plus she come in late and takes a longer lunch. Her smoke breaks alone is over 6 hrs a week, I only get two bathroom breaks a day but need to go more and would like to drink more water but can’t at work because someone has to cover for me when I go the bathroom. I think it’s bull shit that everyone looks the other way while she smokes as much as she wants and it comes down to that she is only working part-time because she is smoking what adds up to be a whole days work but getting paid for full time.

    1. Richard*

      Assuming that you’re both in the same role – as in you both need to be covered whenever you decide to go on a break – this is not her fault, it’s management’s break policy – limiting your bathroom breaks and not extending the same restrictions to her smoke breaks is just unfair.

      What I’d really like to see is someone come forward here with a sensible way of approaching management with these cases. It’s unfair to place hatred on the smoking employees who are taking these breaks, when it’s management who aren’t allowing for such a discrepancy to occur in the treatment of employees who are in the same role. A sensible argument might convince management to flatten and enforce these break policies for everybody involved, or to allow you more freedom over your bathroom breaks.

  50. Amy*

    We don’t have the same role or manager here. I work at the front desk and can only leave when someone covers for me. As far as management goes here it’s clear that not all rules apply to everyone. I asked if I could leave a half hr early and take a half hr lunch instead of an hr to make up the time and my boss went to HR and came back to me and said that I would have to use my vacation time to do so, so shouldn’t the person that is smoking for 80 mins a day that ISN’T making up that time have to use vacation time?

    1. Jamie*

      We don’t know the situation, but I think you’d be better off focusing on what you need from your employer and aren’t getting (more bathroom breaks) and talking to them about possible resolutions.

      Focusing on perks you perceive others to be getting that you are not is a sure fire way to make yourself miserable.

      And it should be noted, it’s not a good idea to judge someone else’s time because unless you are their manager or work closely enough with them to know you don’t know what their situation is. Maybe they are working via email or remote frequently in the evenings. Maybe their manager focused on a results oriented environment and their results are so great they don’t feel the need to micromanage their time. Heck, she could be out there making work related calls while she’s grabbing a cigarette and still working. That happens, too.

      Unfortunately front desk positions are more hours based by their very nature. You need coverage that other positions don’t. That’s why in many offices the receptionist is hourly, not salaried. It’s not personal, it’s just a function of the position – so while I’m sure it sucks it’s not fair to equate the break time with other positions which don’t require coverage.

      But again – you should be able to go to the bathroom when you need to, so talk to your boss and work something out.

      I also don’t think this has anything to do with the fact that she’s smoking. Would you be any less annoyed if she were taking the same amount of time to walk around the parking lot,knitting, doing crunches, or whatever?

      1. Alan (@SlackerInc)*

        Your last paragraph totally ignores the fact that at many, many workplaces, smokers tending to their addiction is tolerated while spending the same amount of time doing the things you mentioned, or really anything else, is not. This is particularly an issue in the food service sector, among hourly wage employees. For them, the concept cited upthread–of salaried white collar workers who can flexibly manage their time as long as they get their share of work done–does not apply. They will inevitably get to do less work for the same pay if they smoke–and that is a perverse incentive and highly unfair to nonsmokers (who often are a minority at such workplaces and end up becoming like designated drivers in a way, providing a constant skeleton crew while the smokers go in and out).

        This is why, as I stated upthread, I have had two different exes who worked in restaurants and took up smoking so they could get hourly breaks like their coworkers. One of them even first tried just standing outside chatting with the smokers and was reprimanded: “You don’t smoke, get back to work!” So she literally bummed a cigarette on the spot, said “yes I do smoke”, and from then on–she did.

        1. Jamie*

          I agree that that is ridiculous. Because yes, if your job is one that has to be done on the clock then there should be a break policy in place and enforced across the board.

        2. mh_76*

          tending to their addiction is tolerated
          Using that rationale (employers’ rationale, that is), should alcoholics be allowed to “tend to their addiction” as well? Should there be Drink breaks?

          I agree with you that “nonsmokers should get the same amount of break time” (from your comment up-thread) if people are allowed to smoke -but- should we non-users be subjected to second-hand smoke as we come/go from buildings and on our colleagues’ clothes? Gag!

          And some of us are very sensitive to the smoke, esp. cigarette smoke. It’s not a medical problem and I don’t need to see a doctor about this sensitivity because it is not abnormal. I just don’t want to smell the aftermath of colleagues or anyone else’s slowly committing suicide-by-cigarette. I know that people become addicted to nicotine – which is why rehab exists (if other quit-smoking measures don’t work).

          Sorry if this sounds mean, I just don’t understand why or how people can put stuff into their bodies, knowing just how bad it is for the human body, other living things (dogs, cats, etc), and the environment. Yes, I live in a city and cities are polluted but some of that pollution is from cigarette (etc.) smoke.

          1. Jamie*

            What your colleagues choose to do is none of your business. If you feel it’s affecting you, that is.

            If you have to walk through smoke to get into work, you should speak to someone about making the area a no-smoking zone. If you feel affected by the smoke being on someone’s clothes – then you can certainly try to remedy that with your workplace. If it’s a reasonable complaint I’m sure others will be in support of that.

            You have a right to address how things affect you. But I would suggest keeping the focus on the issue which should be how does what my co-worker is doing affect my health and/or my ability to do my job.

            Your issues with people committing “suicide by cigarette” aren’t your business. What people chose to put into their body isn’t your business unless it affects you – what other people may be doing to themselves isn’t your issue.

            1. mh_76*

              but cigarettes do affect non-smokers everywhere. We have to walk through the smoke to get anywhere at all…in the city, in the country, everywhere…not just workplaces (and, thankfully, it’s no longer allowed inside in most places). In order to avoid the smoke, the whole world would have to be made a no-smoking zone, with exception of designated smoke-bars, similar in nature to cigar-bars.

              The stench on other people does affect us non-smokers everywhere, because we cannot know whether the person who sits down near us in any setting (work, subway, etc) will reek of smoke.

              Think of how you feel when someone wears too much cologne/perfume or farts a lot or has extreme body odor: you’re gagging and it becomes a problem – people on this (and other) blogs recommend that you address it with the over-scenter / fartastic / aromatic colleague and, if no resolution is reached, go to HR / management. Non-smokers feel the same way about cigarette stench. And excessive farting / body odor can be a result of a genuine medical condition.

              1. Jamie*

                I am not saying it isn’t an issue. I understand that it affects you. That is an issue.

                My point was, the issue is how it affects you – not what they are doing to themselves. That part isn’t your business. The second it affects you, it is. But the only part of it that is your business is the affect it has on you. That was the point I was trying to make.

                I’m not arguing your point that it affects you.

                I am also not arguing in favor of smells in the workplace – far from it. In my perfect world the only smells allowed would be coconut tanning lotion and Noxzema.

                All I am saying is everyone will have more success in getting their issues addressed if they stick to the actual issues and not insert personal opinion.

                Just like if a co-worker had a really strong perfume that triggered your asthma you have every right to address that. But the issue is that it’s too strong and the smell is affecting you – not that she’s pickling herself in perfume and should go to some kind of fragrance rehab.

                1. mh_76*

                  the “what they are doing to themselves” part is the humanistic vein in me wondering how people can knowingly harm themselves, knowing what the likely outcomes will be, and knowing what the effect of ___ (however they harm themsleves) is on others be they human, animal, environment. I’m not a militant anything-ist and admit that my own diet isn’t perfect and that I hate exercise but, with all of the research that has proven the ill effects of (for example) cigarettes on the body, pets, others, enviro., it baffles me that anyone would try them in the first place (to be fair, I need a cup of coffee* in the morning and enjoy the occasional beer/wine/other), knowing that they are designed to become addictive.

                  *A while back, I read something somewhere that had calculated the amount of caffeine / caffeine vehicle (coffee etc) needed to do the equivalent damage of smoking and binge-drinking. I don’t remember the proportions of either but would be happy to hit the “Googlebrary” if you’re interested…

                  [hope this didn’t double-post…computer “choked” again]

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I don’t know how a post from two years ago suddenly jumped to life today, but for the sake of the argument: eating eggs is about as bad as smoking. It’s still no one’s business. (Actually, the eggs are more of our business, if we’d like to stand up for the chickens involved in the egg industry.)

                3. Jamie*

                  Don’t look anything up on my account. I wasn’t advocating smoking – I understand the dangers.

                  I’ll just conclude with reiterating my only point which was that to get any matters like this addressed in the work place it’s best to focus on how it affects you – because when you make a bigger statement about it which is not relevant to the workplace your real, valid, point can be diluted.

                  As a manager if someone comes to me because someone else’s smoking is affecting them at work – I care and we’ll address that. If they come to me because smoking in general bothers them – I don’t care.

                  It was the workplace relevance that I was responding to – I have no desire to debate the general issues with smoking here or anywhere else.

                4. mh_76*

                  I’ve never heard the comparison getween eggs & smoking – do you remember where you read that (I’m curious for curiosity’s sake)? The key difference between smoking anything and other vices is that one person’s smoking affects others via secondhand smoke (smell, health effects), be it up-close or from a distance. People don’t walk around smelling of eggs (barring a skin or other condition) and if they do, they’re embarrassed about it.

                5. mh_76*

                  (“getween” should be “between”)

                  This all circles back to the workplace-related discussion. Personally, I mostly don’t care* if they shut themselves in their cars or homes and smoke as much as they want but I do care if it affects me or other non-smokers adversely, which it inevitably does when smokers come into work [or other] places smelling of smoke or when it’s nearly impossible to get in/out of the building without passing through a cloud of smoke.

                  *I genuinely do like some people (colleagues and others) who are smokers and it bums me out a bit that they willingly harm themselves… the same way that it bums me out a bit when good, likable people drink too much or overeat (2 of my best friends have food addictions… another topic entirely).

                  No, the over-perfumer shouldn’t go through rehab but rehab programs should exist (if they don’t already) for smokers.

                6. mh_76*

                  Thx! The analytical side of me wonders what the yolk:cigarette harm ratio is and the doctor’s-kid side of me is emailing this to my folks (and craving a couple of eggs but getting pizza tonight en route to reh. because it’s right on the way).

          2. Jamie*

            “Yes, I live in a city and cities are polluted but some of that pollution is from cigarette (etc.) smoke.”

            I have to add – unless you’re walking through a cloud of someone’s smoke this isn’t true.

            I’m in Chicago right now and about to head to lunch. I guarantee you the black smoke coming out of the metal refinery down the road, the various smokestacks in my line of vision, and billowing out of the backs of delivery trucks are more affecting to me than the guy across the street who is smoking in his car.

            1. mh_76*

              One guy, maybe minimal impact. But for every one guy across the street, there are thousands of smokers city-wide who, combined, probably put as much pollution ito the air as the smokestacks.

              1. Jamie*

                I would really need to see statistics on how smoking outside affects non-smokers who are no where in the vicinity.

                I’m not being sarcastic, I have never heard that and would be interested in that data – because that doesn’t seem logical to me.

                1. mh_76*

                  But does the exhaust of a convoy of 18-wheeler, or even one truck, on I-90 affect someone who isn’t in their immediate vicinity? Directly, yes. Indirectly, also yes, thanks to winds of all sorts that blow the smoke everywhere.

              2. Richard*

                Actually, smoking is carbon neutral: You’re releasing CO2 into the atmosphere that was absorbed by the tobacco plants the year before. The same applies to wood fuels when they’re grown in a sustainable manner – The plants grown in their place will absorb as much CO2 from the atmosphere as was released from the cigarettes in the first place.

                If anything, the shipping of the cigarettes will have produced more CO2 than will ever be made from people smoking them.

                1. mh_76*

                  Now I’m curious to see links / stats.

                  What about the other 100+ factory-added pollutants in cigarettes, among them benzene, arsenic, and … I can look in the Googlebrary for that list too (was published years ago).

  51. Amy*

    Also I don’t get to decide when I get to go the bathroom, my breaks are scheduled at certain times, only to conveniences the person that is to cover me. If you think about that it seems ridiculous…someone else determines what time I get to go the bathroom, murderers have more freedom in prison then that

    I’m not a smoke hater in fact I smoke lol I just don’t do it at work because I can’t leave my “post” and when I had jobs that I did smoke at the most I would ever take would be 3 and that’s with no lunch break but 80 mins is just ridiculous!!!!

    1. Richard*

      It’s really up to their manager – You’re in different roles, with different responsibilities. Honestly, if she can take 80 minutes out of her day to smoke and still get her job done, all the more power to her. If it was really negatively affecting her work, then her manager would have to deal with that.

      Personally, I think that scheduled bathroom breaks does sound fairly ridiculous, so long as they’re not excessive – your role does involve providing consistent cover on the desk, but I don’t think putting a sign out saying ‘Back in 5 minutes’ two or three times a day would be abysmal – so long as you are only 5 minutes, of course.

  52. Amy*

    I agree with the sign idea and it would only take me two mins to go to the bathroom but I can’t leave without someone covering me. One time I had 40 mins till my next break and I really had to go so I called the person that covers me and she said to me “couldn’t you wait?” On a differnt day I had a doc appontment and left early (taking time off of couse) and another lady that covers for me said “are you going to the doc to see what’s wrong with you vagina?’ I said what? she said “becaues you always have to go the bathroom…I never go at work.”
    Also the 80 min a day smoker does not do work from home or vai email and as far as her work load she give me work to do so you can’t say good for her that can still gets alll her work done becaues she doesn’t

  53. Amy*

    No other smoker takes that many breaks maybe instead she needs more work to do or just do all her work in the first place instead of handing it off to others that have work to do to begin with

  54. keith*

    then the non-smokers should only work 6 hours a day and should get to leave early…it’s only fair

  55. wayne*

    too bad i smoke ..i usually go out for 2 ciggs a day .. but the assholes that go out for like 10-12 ciggs a day every company we all know who they are.. dont blame it on me

  56. Anonymous*

    This is all b.s. Smokers take every break we all take. They just add smoking breaks to them. When you quantify how much and employer would be paying an employee to smoke over a year it would choke you…no pun intended. All that aside…it’s the way smokers just feel entitled. Entitled to take as many breaks as they please. Not to steretyope, but it just screams lazy. Smoking, over weight, take the elevator and not the stairs. Yeah…that’s you smoker.

  57. Random*

    I am currently a bartender in a small town, and smoke breaks have been a problem since I have started here over 2 years ago. I am a smoker, and I try to limit my smoking as much as possible. I do the best I can to make sure I have everything taken care of before I go outside, and I let the people who I am working with know I am going outside. I have recently timed my “breaks” and they are only 3-4 minutes long. I don’t take my phone with me (unless its work related) I just have a quick cigarette and go back to work. And I am more than willing to give non-smokers breaks if they need them.But there is another person I work with who has taken literally 15 smoke breaks in 8-9 hour shift and it drives me crazy. She is sometimes out there for 10 minutes on her phone. My boss wants to cut smoking all together. I think this is totally unfair. Instead of just telling her to stop he’s going to make everyone suffer!

    1. Alan (@SlackerInc)*

      You make a good point, that some of the more egregious ones ruin it for those who try to keep it minimal.

  58. Stephani*

    A significant point about what goes on when smoking workers leave the work area for their break is that the non-smokers usually pick up the slack (answer the phones, etc.)
    And another issue is when the smokers have “meetings” and discuss work while they are smoking to the exclusion of the non-smokers. It’ s another point that is overlooked.

    1. Alan (@SlackerInc)*

      I think your first point is implicit in all the previous complaints. Your second point, though, is novel and indeed does seem like a valid one that is likely to be overlooked.

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