An employer went too far when it banned smoking by employees
during their shift, including during breaks and off the
employer's premises, a labour arbitrator has ruled.
Starting in January 2015, the employer – which
manufactured wire and cable products – banned smoking
anywhere on company property, including outside of the plant.
Employees were also prohibited from leaving company property during
their breaks, so that effectively employees could not smoke during
The union filed a grievance against the ban. The
arbitrator agreed that the employer had the right to prohibit
smoking on its property. He acknowledged that smoking is
harmful to smokers, their colleagues, and the employer
generally. However, smoking is still a legal activity in
Ontario and the employer could not, according to the arbitrator,
prohibit employees from smoking off company property during their
break, even though employees were paid during their break.
Given that it took only a minute or two to leave the plant and
exit company property, it was an unreasonable exercise of
management rights – and therefore a violation of the
collective agreement – for the employer to prohibit employees
from smoking off property during break time.
It is important to note that this decision is based on labour
relations law. The same result would not necessarily apply in
a non-unionized setting. In those workplaces, employees would
need to assert that the smoking ban was discriminatory under human
rights legislation based on a disability (addiction).
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