I had a very interesting query from Ron Letcher who trades as a Londis in the West Country. He asks: “What is the law on smoking if your policy is no smoking? I have two members who constantly break our rules.”
This pair work on average a five and a half hour shift, so are not entitled to a break but he finds the cigarette butts outside the back door. Which also means they sometimes leave the store unattended.
To top it off they are not washing their hands afterwards.
I had a long chat with the employers’ helpline ACAS, which is completely impartial, and a very helpful bloke said if it wasn’t spelled out in the contract of employment then there is no official policy. The good news though is that Ron absolutely has the right to consciously change the way he conducts his business. He can add a ‘non detrimental’ clause to staff’s contracts of employment saying it is now a contractual obligation to observe no smoking rules on or about the premises because of hygiene. (A detrimental change would be, say, slashing their wages: he would have to get agreement for that but a non detrimental clause does not require agreement.)
But it must be written down – if this ever came to a tribunal, his defence would then be rock solid, in writing. There must also be hand washing and self-distancing.
So, it all comes down to coronavirus risk! Should employees object to these new rules you can then impose disciplinary consequences. They are, after all, handling food. It’s pretty clear Ron has right on his side.