The Aeon supermarket chain recently announced it would impose new regulations on smoking by employees that has spurred controversy.
J-Cast News (Jan 26) reports that the company, a major retailer employing some 450,000 workers, has announced that effective Jan 25, smoking would be banned during working hours, and on the company's premises. And this ban on cigarettes extends to 45 minutes prior to the start of working time -- the idea being that the ashes and other particles may cling to the smoker's clothing, which may be injurious to others.
The reaction was swift in coming, with posts on Twitter demanding, "Let workers do what they want before starting work!" and "Do employers have this kind of control over their employees' behavior?"
Inquiring to the company, J-Cast News reporter was informed that "This is a revision of our work rules and is still at the stage of being finalized."
Its next stop was to ask an attorney if one's employer had the right to impose such restrictions on staff outside of their working hours. According to Aeon's news release, the restrictions would go into effect from around the end of March.
When J-Cast News inquired to the company's spokesperson as to whether employees teleworking from home would also be affected, it was informed that they would, but smoking would be permitted during their breaks.
This is not the first time Aeon has made news concerning smoking. In 2018, it initiated an incentive system that paid employees to quit smoking, and in July of the following year the company's headquarters offices in Mihama Ward, Chiba City became completely smoke free. The company justified its latest rule by saying it was in support of "health for our workers and their families." The company has harnessed a variety of methods, including online therapy, to wean staff members from cigarettes.
Some of the tweets were solidly in favor of Aeon's new rule and praised the company management. "The odor of cigarettes is a turnoff when meeting customers," posted one. "I think it will be nice to be able to shop in a fresh environment," said another. Others, however, hotly expressed their opposition, arguing that the rule constituted an intrusion on workers' personal lives.
So where does the law stand in this case? J-Cast News queried attorney Kensho Masaki in the Amane Law Office in Tokyo.
"According to studies by the University of Occupational and Environmental Health, it takes about 45 minutes for particles deposited from smoking and the exhaling of smoke to dissipate," said Masaki. "And from the potential to impact on other parties, this rule appears to be both necessary and practical. If challenged, the 45-minute rule stands a good chance of being upheld."
"On the other hand," Masaki continues, "employees who are psychologically inconvenienced by such a ruling may seek compensation," he continues. "In recent years, the harmful effects of smoking on both smokers and passive smokers has been recognized and resulted in more bans on smoking. Under these circumstances, I suppose that even if employees lose smoking opportunities and argue that they suffered mental distress as a result, their employer may face some degree of liability, but only in limited cases, such as abuse of the employer's authority."© Japan Today