Policeman compensated in passive smoking case
A police officer who said he was forced to take early retirement due to poor health after being subjected to years of passive smoking at work has received just €7,400 in compensation.
The man, who was a smoker himself, quit the habit in 2003 as he showed early signs of coronary heart disease. He started working with a police dog handler team in Vienna in 2005 and told his commanding officer that he must work in a non-smoking environment due to his health issues.
He said his request was ignored and that all his colleagues were heavy smokers who would leave the doors of their offices open, so that smoke would come into his office. When he asked them to smoke outside they refused. One colleague even lit up in front of him and blew smoke in his face.
In May 2006, he asked Vienna’s deputy police chief to ensure that laws regarding the protection of non-smokers were being complied with. The colleague who had blown smoke in his face was transferred to another department but otherwise the situation did not improve, according to a report in the Kurier newspaper. Later that year the man fell from a ladder after suffering a dizzy spell and was told to take sick leave. An investigation found that he was unfit to work.
In 2007 the deputy police chief was told that in order to comply with smoking regulations he must set up a container to act as a “smoking room” at the back of the building, and ban police from smoking in their offices. However, by this time the invalided dog handler had taken early retirement.
He sued the Republic of Austria for failing to adequately protect him, but the high court in Vienna said he was not eligible for compensation for loss of earnings due to having to take early retirement as it could not be proven that his heart disease had become worse because of his working environment at the dog handling unit. The €7,400 was awarded for the pain and suffering he experienced due to his colleagues’ behaviour.
A complete smoking ban does not come into force in Austria until May 2018. Around 14,000 people die a year in Austria from tobacco-related illnesses.