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Can I ban a Soldier from smoking at work?

I have a Soldier who smokes. We work in a hospital, and all hospitals are no tobacco use areas. It takes approximately 15 minutes to smoke by the time you leave the area we work, walk to smoking area, smoke, come back, wash your hands, and become a rejoin the team.

This Soldier is the only smoker in the section. Our staffing changes depending on night/day shift. We work in the intensive care unit/post operative care (icu/pacu). Due to this, our patient load changes at the drop of a hat. So if the Charge Nurse allows this Soldier to smoke then a patient comes to the section, a patient may experience a delay in pain medication, or in the worst case scenario, a patient could die.

The question I am trying to ask is: Can I legally tell a soldier that he is not allowed to leave his area to smoke?

I know someone will say he could when it's lunch time, but the same thing applies during the whole 12-hour shift. I cannot know exactly when a patient arrives to the floor, or if a patient needs assistance that requires two people at any given time. Being a nurse is a very time-demanding job, and there are days you feel lucky to have any break at all.

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You can prevent the Soldier from smoking during duty hours if you can prove it interferes with the performance of his duties. However, you must then also look at other individuals on your team with habits that could also interfere with their duties (e.g. excessive phone calls, or frequent visitors).

You could approach this several ways but first and most importantly you need the support of the chain of command if you intend to prevent or limit his smoking through an order or policy.

You could recommend:

  • that he only be authorized 2 15-minute breaks during his shift for the purpose of smoking.
  • that he not be allowed to smoke during the tour of duty.
  • a no-smoking policy
  • a policy that prevents individuals from leaving the immediate area during shift.
Can I ban a Soldier from smoking?

How does his smoking adversely impact his ability to perform? Are you treating all members of your team with same level of scrutiny?

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Mark is a Retired Command Sergeant Major with 26 years of military leadership experience. He held 3 military occupational specialties (Field Artillery, Nuclear Weapons Tech, and Ammunition Ordnance). Mark is one of the leading military authors in the fields of leadership, counseling, and training.

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  • Robert Eccles, SGT


    As a Medical NCO that also works within an Army Medical Center I can understand how it is to be concerned about patient care and how it affects the ability to take breaks/meals.
    I mostly work off shift when there are frequently only three techs on shift. It is on these days that I make sure I am very aware of the workload throughout the lab. I know all the civilian employees are required to take two 15 minute breaks and one 30 minute meal. Since I know I have to be fair to everyone I make sure that everyone working on my shift is able to take a couple of breaks and/or a meal. First, I do this to remain fair and impartial (one of the things which is required of all NCO’s). Second, if I don’t take care of my soldiers and techs I can’t expect them to complete the mission to the best of their abilities.
    One more thing to consider, would you ever consider restrict your soldiers from using the bathroom? No matter what as a good leader it is very important to remember if you don’t take care of your soldiers they will not have the desire and drive to complete the mission.
    Last, if you are ever questioning how you should deal with a difficult or questionable situation look to the NCO creed, it was created to guide us in everything we do.

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