Smoking costly for two restaurant employees

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CAPE MAY — Iris Perez and a second employee were recently fired from Delaney’s for taking a smoke break.

According to Perez, she and her coworker arrived at 10 a.m. and got the restaurant ready for an 11 a.m. opening. She said at 10:50 a.m. they had the restaurant ready and they asked their manager if they could take a smoke break before the restaurant opened. Perez said she the manager told her and her coworker it was okay.

Perez said they did not smoke near the restaurant, but moved halfway down the block, where they were seen by the general manager.

Perez said when they returned to work they were informed they were fired for violating a policy requiring no-smoking during their shift.

Perez said they pleaded with the general manager saying they had permission to smoke, that it was before the restaurant opened, and they would never do it again. She said they did not go out in the middle of their shift to smoke.

“She just said, ‘No, no, no.’ She said when she makes up her mind it’s final,” Perez said.

Perez said she had been hired on a Thursday, and on Sunday there apparently was a staff meeting held where the no-smoking policy was explained.

“I wasn’t working that night. I didn’t come in until Tuesday, when we were fired,” Perez said.

Delaney’s owner Michael Slawek said the business held two staff meetings where they explained the no-smoking policy.

“It’s pretty simple – you clock in and it’s no smoking,” he said.

Slawek said the shift begins when the employee clocks in, not when the restaurant opens. He said the blanket policy was established so it was not open to interpretation by managers. He said the policy is for the benefit of the customers and the employees who are waiting on them.

“When employees are smoking they are neglecting tables,” he said. “The customer who wants something can’t wave to their server if they are outside smoking.”

He said not taking smoke breaks could lead to bigger tips.

“If they are attentive to the customers, and give better service, that will increase tips,” he said.

He said inattentive wait staff that smell from cigarettes probably won’t be tipped as well. He said the wait staff only works five to six hour shifts and should be able to refrain from smoking that long.

Slawek said his girlfriend, who is acting as the general manager, also has a personal reason for taking a strong no-smoking stance. He said her father recently passed away after a five- or six-year struggle with lung cancer.

Nolo.com, which is a site that offers self-help legal information, says, “New Jersey does not require employers to create designated smoking areas or provide other accommodations for smokers in the workplace.”

It further explains that New Jersey law doesn’t address employer policies on smoking in the workplace.

“And even though it’s not required by law in New Jersey, employers are generally free to adopt policies on smoking in the workplace if they choose to,” the site says.

According to Brian Murray from the state Department of Labor, a mandatory break law only applies to minors and then it is based on the number of hours worked.

“Company policy or union contracts dictate any break and lunch periods for anyone over the age of 18 and older, and that includes whether they will offer smoking breaks,” Murray said.

Karen Blumenfeld, executive director of Global Advisors on Smokefree Policy, said business owners are actually required to prohibit smoking near restaurant entrance/exits, open windows or ventilation systems.

“There is a smoke-free buffer zone required where neither employees nor patrons should be smoking. That has been in effect since 2007,” she said.

Blumenfeld said there has been a trend in the healthcare community and workplaces to institute no smoking policies during a work shift due to third hand smoke (THS).

“There is a public health concern with this regard. THS is basically the particulate matter that still exists on the smokers, clothes, hair, etc.,” she said.

Papers on the issue of third hand smoke are available by going to www.njgasp.com and clicking on “Emerging Trends and Issues.”


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