You may have a relaxed view on your employees taking smoking breaks during working hours, but how do you stop this from creating tension among your non-smoking employees who feel they are missing out on additional break-time?

Smoking is a contentious issue to deal with at work. It’s hard to get the balance right between those who smoke and those who don’t, those who believe in vaping and those who consider e-cigarettes a risk to health.

Some employers may turn a blind eye to those who go outside to smoke a cigarette during working hours, however, this is unlikely to be missed by their non-smoking colleagues who feel they are receiving fewer breaks because they choose not to smoke.

A Japanese company has taken the extraordinary step of rewarding non-smokers with six extra days holiday a year to make up for the time their smoking colleagues spend on cigarette breaks. They estimate it takes around ten-fifteen minutes for each break but did not want to restrict smoking breaks entirely.

The company believes cigarette breaks are a positive use of time as they provide the opportunity for colleagues to get together and talk about work or come up with ideas away from their desks. Instead, they hope the incentive will make people want to quit smoking to receive more holiday leave.

It is up to the employer to put in place their rules about smoking at work. If they want to allow staff to take smoking breaks they should consider whether these are in addition to, or part of, employees’ normal break times.

If extra breaks are provided, how this effects other non-smoking members of staff should be examined to assess the likelihood of complaints being raised about less favourable treatment.

The fairest and least risky option would be to provide extra short breaks to all staff, who may or may not use these to smoke.

This will also regulate the length and frequency of breaks and limit the amount of time lost during each working day.

Employers are within their rights to restrict smoking during working hours, outside of any designated breaks. Due to the rise in popularity of e-cigarettes, employers should double check their smoking rules or non-smoking policies to ensure these include a prohibition on e-cigarettes.

If you have any questions in relation to employees who smoke at work, please contact our expert employment law advisors on the 24 Hour Advice Service on 01 855 50 50