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Tuesday, 20 November, 2001, 18:00 GMT
How much influence should your boss have?
A pro-smoking group has condemned Swindon firm, which allegedly sacked a worker for smoking at home.

The freedom organisation for the right to enjoy smoking tobacco (Forest) says it is worried that workers could eventually be breathalysed to ensure they have not smoked.

Sales executive Mark Hodges, 41, had been told of the firm's no smoking policy but said he had assumed that only applied at the office and in his company car.

He said he had let slip to his new employers on his first day that he smoked at home and was dismissed the next day.

Do you think they should have the right to question employees about their private lives? Or are your habits, hobbies and interests none of their business?

This Talking Point was suggested by Kirsty, UK:

Do your employers have the right to dictate how you behave in your private life? Is it OK to sack someone for smoking at home?

If you have any suggestions for Talking Points, please click here.

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

If anyone was in doubt about how much our employment rights have been eroded in recent times, then this case should convince them.

Jack Burge, UK
I don't want to sound alarmist, but if Mr.Hodges sacking goes unchallanged, then it could open the doors to more and more employers imposing draconian restrictions on their staff. It is not just an outrage, it is a criminal attack on a mans basic human right to freedom of lifestyle whithin the privacy of his own home. If anyone was in doubt about how much our employment rights have been eroded in recent times, then this case should convince them.
Jack Burge, UK

We don't know the company and if there were particular reasons to be so strict - I suppose that a company involved in dealing with lung-cancer research or related damage claims could have a point. I smoke about 3 small cigars per year - does that make me smoker? Should I be fired? I think it would be good though, if smoking would be restricted to an area well away from public buildings. There is no way of getting in or out of a building without passing a curtain of smoke.
Leo, Sweden

I am a non-smoker and would love to see a ban on smoking in all public places, however what people do in their own homes is nobody's business but their own.

Corporate mentality should not need to exist after 5.30!

Kate W, England
As a non-smoker, it is irritating to see people taking sometimes constant "fag-breaks". However, if Mr Hodges did not do this then the company had no right to complain. I actually think it's scary that a company can try and dictate one's home life like this. Corporate mentality should not need to exist after 5.30! I hope Mr Hodges sues this company and wins.
Kate W, England

If Mr Hodges has agreed to a contract that stipulates no smoking or has claimed to be a non-smoker on his application form then he has little cause to complain. If he smokes at home he will still smell like an ashtray at work and his physical health is likely to be worse than that of his non-smoking colleagues. Also the very fact that he is a smoker says something very negative about his personality. Anyone who risks serious health problems for the sake of a pathetic little self-gratification clearly has a serious problem.
Kulu, UK

So long as he does what he's being paid for, what he does outside of the company's premises is entirely his own business. He should sue for every penny he can get. Otherwise employers will have far too much power over employees' own time. It could get to the point where they won't hire amateur sportsmen for fear of having to pay them sick leave for sports injuries, or DIY enthusiasts in case they fall off the ladder. If you can do your job, why does it matter if (or even what) you smoke?

This is unfortunately not a new situation

Simon Atkinson, UK
This is unfortunately not a new situation. A few years ago a worker was sacked for lighting a cigarette up in his car and he was pulling out of the company car park (which of course had a no smoking policy). I once worked for a very large utility company here in the UK that used to have a smoking room, which they then closed down. At lunch the staff would smoke outside on the company property, again the company asked them not to smoke on company premises. They really bit the biscuit when they tried to tell staff they couldn't smoke on the council owned pavement!
Simon Atkinson, UK

An employer has every right to choose whom he employs. He's going to pay the wages so why should he be expected to employ someone he sees as unsuitable, for whatever reason?
Albert, UK

If the employer couldn't detect the stench of stale tobacco smoke on the man's clothes and on his breath, he wasn't interviewing him sufficiently. Those of us who don't want to have our environment polluted by this disgusting habit have every right to not associate with those who do.
Brian N, London, England

I believe it is perfectly in order not to hire smokers. Companies don't like to hire those addicted to pot smoking. Both are addictive and affect job performance. Although tobacco smokers don't get "high", they take frequent smoke breaks and cause a health hazard to other employees. Smokers that do without cigarettes during their time at work may become easily irritable because of the dependence on nicotine. (Yes, nicotine is a drug!) A worker can be hired once he/she has kicked their addiction on nicotine.
Bill, USA

No one has the right to dictate how you should behave at home. The Soviet Union was criticised for interfering with individuals and taking away their individual rights, this just goes to show that capitalism is no better.
Mark, Netherlands

I can't believe what I just read! An employer has no rights on what you do in your personal life, as long as it isn't illegal. Smoking is not illegal, and certainly not in your own home. UK management is rife with this kind of authoritarian bullying. I hope he sues this company and that others lay off from prying in to what is not their concern. I live and work in the US, and I have to agree with an earlier post, that this keeps me from ever wanting to return and work in the UK. I am a non-smoker, but believe in one's personal rights to do whatever you want to do.
John Clark, US/UK

It would be a silly clause to include in a contract of employment

Dave, UK
I suppose that if a contract had been signed which stipulated that he would be immediately dismissed if he was found to be a smoker, then his employers had every right to sack him. Still, it would be a silly clause to include in a contract of employment. I don't smoke, but I wouldn't want to work for any company that restricted their workers' private lives in such a ridiculous way.
Dave, UK

Personal life, professional life, only one of these is for hire.
Peter James, England

If my employer elected to fire me because he disapproved of any aspect of my domestic conduct, I would first politely explain to that person my views on their crass stupidity. Second, I would invite that person to my home and ask them to fire me on my own carpet. In the wake of what would immediately follow, I doubt if that employer would ever again repeat such a breathtakingly arrogant error of judgement.
Chris B, England

This is discrimination of the worst kind. I used to be a shop steward in the UK whilst working for a local government authority. I thought I had seen it all then, with regard to employers' attitudes, but this takes the cake! How dare any employer tell you what you can and cannot do during the time he is NOT paying you. I hope that a civil liberties group will support Mark Hodges all the way to the European courts if necessary, to give this company a salutary lesson with regard to individual freedom and workers' rights. What someone does in their own home is their ownbusiness.
Susan, US/UK

This story is outrageous. I can't believe anyone could be sacked for smoking at home in their own free time. Mind you, he's better off without them. Who'd want to work for a company like that! I just don't see how this can possibly be legal.
B. Thompson, UK

He has been caught out, and has to accept the consequences of being untruthful

David Evans, UK
From a legal point of view, Mr Thompson, it depends on what the gentleman declared on his job application. If he smokes and he declared on his job application that he did not, then he is in breach of his contract, and has been untruthful to his employers. It is as simple as that. They may now feel that he has not been truthful about other matters on that application, and so the trust that they put in him to be straight with them has already gone. He may well have been employed in a job (food manufacturing, or healthcare for example) where the smell of nicotine, that, let's face it, lingers on clothes and breath would be a bad advertisement for that company when he is out selling their products, or in meetings with other executives. He has been caught out, and has to accept the consequences of being untruthful. If this is not the case, then he would have good grounds to sue the employer.
David Evans, UK

Speaking from bitter experience I know that British employers and managers are notorious bullies whose attitudes are rooted in Victorian times. I would seriously advise people to work for American (or other foreign) companies. They demonstrate a business culture based on equality and respect for their employees. Or try contracting. Or emigrate to a less hierarchical, class-obsessed country. I can promise you it works - I have done all three. Oh, and I'm a non-smoker.
K Wilson, Australia

I can understand why firms would want to hire people with lower sickness rates and who are less likely to suffer from long-term illness during their working lives, even if I do think this is going a bit far.
Guy Chapman, UK

This is the most idiotic thing I have heard. I don't smoke, and while I can appreciate a non smoking policy in the workplace, what people do in their own homes is entirely up to them. As far as I'm aware, smoking isn't illegal in the UK. It's nothing short of discrimination.
Billy Corgan, USA

Companies need to stop behaving as if they have bought your soul

Richard P, UK
The only legitimate concerns of the company you work for with regards to what you do in your time are if you compromise your ability to do your job, or if you bring the company into disrepute. Beyond that companies need to stop behaving as if they have bought your soul rather than just rented your services for 40 hours a week.
Richard P, UK

I am British but presently live in the USA. I sometimes wonder about coming home, but issues like this make me want to stay away. "An English man's home is his castle", at least it used to be. As long as someone or something is not affecting your emotional or physical performance in your job, your boss should have no right to sanction you in any way. In fact I think this boss should be fired for discrimination or if it is a company owner, the company should be severely sanctioned for discrimination.
Geraldine Tucker, USA

That's nonsense! I hope Mr Hodges is going to sue for unfair dismissal, because employers have no right to govern your behaviour outside of working hours. If it isn't illegal, and it doesn't affect your ability to do your job, then what you do in your own time is your business and nobody else's.
Antony, UK

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