Free Enterprise - The FindLaw Small Business Law Blog

Should You Give Non-Smoking Employees Extra Vacation Days?

There are all sorts of good reasons to encourage your employees to be healthy, and a lot of good ways to incentivize them. And one of the biggest battlegrounds of employee health has been cigarette use.

Smokers are loath to relinquish their habit, but they could be costing your company time and money. So is it time to start enticing them to quit by giving extra holidays to non-smoking employees?

Vacation or Break?

As the AP reports, that's the plan for one Tokyo marketing company. Piala began offering six extra vacation days to non-smoking members of its 120-person staff in September, and according to corporate planning director Hirotaka Matsushima, the results have been positive. "Yes," he told the AP, "it's pretty popular." Only about a third of the company smokes, Matsushima said, and the policy was introduced as an incentive to reduce the amount of productivity lost to smoking breaks.

Profits Going up in Smoke?

As crackdowns on indoor smoking have pushed smokers further and further away, that means more productivity lost to smoke breaks. A 2013 study found that just one smoking employee's breaks could cost a company $3,000 per year in lost productivity. And smokers could cost their employers almost another $3,000 in additional health care costs, lost work to sick days, and lowered productivity due to withdrawal symptoms.

Now if you're thinking that you may just refuse to hire smokers in the first place, you might want to think again -- 29 states have enacted so-called Smoker Protection Laws, which prevent employers from discriminating against smokers. So while you might be free to ban smoking in the workplace and designate smoking areas (and may even need to comply with state anti-smoking statutes that apply to offices, restaurants, and other places of employment), you might not be able to ban smokers from your office entirely.

So before you create a smoking policy for your office -- whether it be a ban on smoking or a benefit for non-smokers -- you should contact an experienced employment attorney first.

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