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HEALTH

German restaurant owner gives non-smoking employees extra holiday

Would you give up smoking for more time off work? A restaurant owner in the western German state of Rhineland Palatinate has started offering employees who don’t smoke five days of extra holiday.

German restaurant owner gives non-smoking employees extra holiday
Glas (r) and head chef Grüning sit at a table in the restaurant designated for non-smokers. Photo: DPA

“I give employees who don’t smoke five days more annual leave to compensate them for the extra cigarette breaks taken by smokers,” said Helmut Glas. 

Some may see this as patronising, but in his eyes it helps keep the peace at work. 

“Before you could sense some hostility toward the employees who smoke. You’d hear non-smokers mutter things like ‘oh, he’s off for another cigarette break’,” said the 44-year-old restaurateur. 

READ ALSO: Germany set to ban cigarette street ads from 2022

“And they have a point: if you tally up the extra breaks that smokers take, you won’t believe how much working time is lost.” Now, he says, peace has been restored. 

Glas, who runs the country inn Jägerstübchen in the town of Neustadt, remembers exactly when he came up with the idea to offer non-smokers more holidays.

Conflict resolution

“I announced the decision at the Christmas party. It received quite the reception,” explained Glas. He had sounded out the idea beforehand and was therefore largely greeted with approval.

“When I told my employees one of the smokers said ‘great, now I won’t have to deal with rude comments every time I take a cigarette break’’”. Five of his employees smoke and seven don’t – and he doesn’t smoke either. 

One of his employees tried to quit smoking to receive more annual leave, but Glas caught him in the basement with a cigarette. The employee may not have kept the extra holiday, but at least he kept his job, said Glas.

Glas in his restaurant. Photo: DPA

His head chef Steffan Grüning, on the other hand, is trying to persevere: he has given up after smoking for 15 years. 

“The prospect of getting more annual leave was the key motivating factor”, explained the chef. Before a pack of cigarettes would barely last him two days. “The initiative is definitely improving the atmosphere at work,” said the 32-year-old.

But is he not annoyed that he’s received five more days of annual leave this year, only to be stuck at home due to the coronavirus pandemic? “I don’t mind,” says Grüning with a smile, “the main thing is that I have more time off.”

According to data from 2017, 26.4 percent of men and 18.6 percent of women in Germany over the age of 15 are smokers.

Is the policy lawful?

For labour law specialist Nathalie Oberthür, offering additional leave for non-smokers is generally permissible from a legal perspective. “The employees who smoke have more free time because they take more breaks, and so offering extra leave can compensate non-smokers,” she says.

But the decision to grant extra leave should not be taken on the grounds of whether someone smokes or not, rather whether they take additional breaks to smoke. 

Opinion: Why Germany needs to take the smoking ban more seriously

“Anyone who only uses their official breaks to smoke should also receive the extra holiday leave,” said Oberthür. If the distinction were being made solely to punish smokers, that would be unlawful. 

The German Hotel and Restaurant Association (Dehoga) also see the policy as justifiable. “If the employees agree with the decision, then it can be seen as good conflict resolution in the workplace”, said Gereon Haumann, regional boss for Dehoga Rhineland-Palatinate. He agrees that working time is definitely lost through smoking breaks.

Improved efficiency 

“Employees that don’t keep popping out for breaks are simply more productive”, says Glas. “Before you know it that’s ten minutes gone.” 

German employees are not legally entitled to extra smoking breaks. Courts in Germany have made it clear many times that the need for an occasional cigarette is not considered a legitimate reason to interrupt work. 

According to a Hamburg University study published in 2009 by the German Cancer Research Center, smoking breaks cost German companies more than €28 billion a year. 

“I am pleased that the idea has gone down so well amongst my employees. They could have kicked up a real fuss about it,” said Glas.

“As we are a small company it’s possible to maintain such a policy here.” A larger business like the chemicals company BASF would definitely find it more difficult to implement. 

Glas was saddened when he received anonymous hate for his decision on the Internet. “I was accused of discriminating against smokers and told that I’m a nutcase who deserves to be sued” “he said. 

That meant he was all the more pleased when he received a letter from his health insurance provider. 

“They find the idea interesting and want to know more about it –  also as a means of preventative health care,” he said, implying that employees could be inclined not to smoke due to what it would cost them.

 

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HEALTH

Monkeypox in Germany: Two teens ‘among new infections’

Two teenage boys between the ages of 15-17 have reportedly been infected by monkeypox, as the number of cases in Germany continues to grow.

Monkeypox in Germany: Two teens 'among new infections'

German news site Spiegel Online first reported the new cases – which are an anomaly for a virus as it has mostly affected gay men – following an inquiry to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI). 

They are among a total of 2,677 people who are confirmed to have contracted the virus in Germany to date. There have not been any fatalities.

Out of these, only five cases were women, according to the RKI. The public health institute said that it does not release information on individual cases.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How Germany wants to contain the monkeypox

The disease – which is not usually fatal – often manifests itself through fever, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, chills, exhaustion and a chickenpox-like rash on the hands and face.

The virus can be transmitted through contact with skin lesions and droplets of a contaminated person, as well as through shared items such as bedding and towels.

Many of the cases known so far concern homosexual and bisexual men. However, affected people and experts have repeatedly warned against stigmatising gay communities.

How fatal is the disease?

The first monkeypox cases were reported in Germany on May 20th, as the disease continued to spread in West Europe.

At the weekend, the first two deaths outside of West Africa were reported in Spain.

READ ALSO: WHO warns ‘high’ risk of monkeypox in Europe as it declares health emergency

The RKI has urged people returning from West Africa and in particular gay men, to see their doctors quickly if they notice any chances on their skin.

According to the latest estimates, there are 23,000 monkeypox cases worldwide, and Europe is particularly affected with 14,000 cases.

There have been 2,677 monkeypox cases in Germany as of August 2, 2022. Photo: CDC handout

About eight percent of patients in Europe have been hospitalised so far, reported the World Health Association on Monday, mostly due to severe pain or additional infections.

In general, the mortality of the variant currently circulating in Europe is estimated to be low.

READ ALSO: More cases of monkeypox ‘expected’ in Germany

Will a vaccine make a difference?

Since July, a vaccine has been authorised in 27 EU member states and in Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. 

The Standing Committee on Vaccination (STIKO) recommends vaccination against monkeypox in Germany for certain risk groups and people who have had close contact with infected people.

So far, the German government has ordered 240,000 vaccine doses, of which 40,000 had been delivered by Friday. 

Around 200,000 doses are set to follow by the end of September. 

The German Aids Federation (DAH) on Friday called for one million vaccine doses, stressing that the current supplies will fall short of meeting need.

“The goal must be to reduce the number of infections as quickly as possible and to get the epidemic permanently under control,” explained Ulf Kristal of the DAH board in Berlin on Friday.

But this is only possible, he said, if as many people at risk of infection as possible are vaccinated.

“We don’t assume the epidemic will be over when the doses available so far have been vaccinated,” Axel Jeremias Schmidt, Epidemiologist and DAH Consultant for Medicine and Health Policy, wrote in a press release.

As long as there are monkeypox infections, he said, people who are at risk must be offered vaccination. 

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