A Japanese civil servant recently got in trouble for smoking on the job more than 4,500 times in 14 years. He was hit with a fine worth around $11,000 for lighting cigarettes during work hours.
According to a report by The Straits Times, the authorities in Osaka laid down the law on the 61-year-old employee, along with two colleagues in the prefecture's finance department, by enforcing a 10 per cent pay cut for six months for repeatedly smoking during work hours despite multiple warnings.
In September 2022, the human resource office received an anonymous tip that the trio were secretly stashing tobacco. The trio were summoned by their supervisor and warned that they may face consequences if they are caught smoking again. However, the three continued smoking and lied about it when interviewed in December 2022.
Osaka has some of the strictest smoking laws in the world. It introduced a total ban on smoking cigarettes in government premises including office and public spaces in 2008. Government employees were banned from smoking during work hours in 2019.
The Straits Times report said that of the three, the 61-year-old director-level employee was deemed to have violated the "duty of devotion" under the Local Public Service Act. The man was asked to return 1.44 million yen of his salary, in addition to his disciplinary wage reduction.
The prefectural government revealed that the man clocked up 355 hours and 19 minutes of smoking on duty.
Reactions to the penalty have been sympathetic. Some argued that having to go off-site for a puff would have meant wasting more time, while others found the fine harsh, saying one can waste time by drinking tea, eating snacks or just chatting, but those are not punishable offences, so neither should be smoking tobacco.
A similar incident was reported in 2019 when a high school teacher in Osaka was asked to pay back one million yen of his salary to the education ministry. He was found guilty of taking around 3,400 illicit smoke breaks during work hours.