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Employee Smoke Breaks Can Be Costly, Study Finds

By Betty Wang, JD on June 06, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Employee smoke breaks can be costly, and not just for the smoker. According to a new study, the cost to businesses is about $5,800 per year for every smoker. That includes not only health care costs, but also work lost during all those smoke breaks.

Other considerations include a lower productivity because of withdrawal symptoms and health risks attributed to smoking, NPR reports.

What can employers do about this?

Smoke Breaks and Your Bottom Line

For the study, researchers estimated that an average employee-smoker takes five 15-minute smoke breaks during an eight-hour workday; three of those breaks were assumed to be during designated break times.

Even so, those five smoke breaks added up to more than $3,000 per year, per worker, in lost productivity, researchers found. Their study appears in the journal Tobacco Control.

The reason for all these smoke breaks often lies in smoke-free workplace laws and policies that force smokers to light up outdoors, and not in the office.

However, there is no requirement that workplaces allow their employees to be given smoke breaks or that smoking is even a right.

Potential Ways to Cut Back on Smoke Breaks

Even smoke-free workplaces often have a designated outdoor smoking area for workers who smoke. But this actually is not legally required. Therefore, one way to potentially cut back on unproductive smoke breaks could be to limit the time your workers can take for a smoke break.

If this is going to be your policy, it's best to put it in writing and have all employees -- smokers and non-smokers alike -- sign off on it.

When a smoke-free policy is made official at the workplace, it can also be stipulated that failure to comply with the policy can result in disciplinary action or even the employee being terminated.

Many companies already follow model smoke-free workplace policies, like the one offered by the American Cancer Society, that can be revised according to your business' needs. If you need help drafting a workplace policy that also conforms with the law, it may be best to consult an experienced employment lawyer near you.

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