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 their shift.

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).

United Steelworkers Local 7175 v Veyance Technoligies Canada Inc, 2015 CanLII 30713 (ON LA)