Smoking in the Workplace

  • Employment Law
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Peninsula Group, HR and Health & Safety Experts

(Last updated )

Read about the legal requirements for workers who smoke and the risks of smoking in the workplace.

Since July 2007, the UK banned smoking in public areas and in enclosed places. Which arguably contributed to a significant decrease in smoking overall.

Under health legislations, employers legally uphold smoking ban rules within their premises. Failing to comply can lead to costly penalties, business disruptions and potential long-term illness to workers.

Read about the legal requirements for workers who smoke and the risks of smoking in the workplace. We’ll also look at the rules on smoke breaks, smoking areas, and dealing with alternative smoking devices.

Smoking in the workplace legislation

Public health laws introduced a nationwide smoking ban in enclosed or partially enclosed workplaces. Under the Health Act 2006, the ban extends to public places, public transport, and also smoking in company vehicles.

As employers are legally responsible for the Health & Safety of their workers, it falls on them to enforce smoke-free legislation within their workplace.

The smoke-free legislation requires employers to:

  • Display no-smoking signs in both the workplace and work vehicles.
  • Ensure workers, customers, and visitors follow a smoke-free business policy.
  • Guarantee nobody smokes on work premises and in work vehicles.

Smoking in the workplace rules extends to work vehicles like taxis, buses, and company cars (used by more than one driver). The smoking ban also applies to communal staff rooms and workplace bathrooms.

What classifies ‘smoking’?

We define smoking as possessing a lit substance that can be smoked (like tobacco, drugs, and other substances). Smoking devices can include:

  • Cigarettes.
  • Cigars.
  • Pipes (including water pipe).

The Office of National Statistics (ONS) reports that since 2010 nearly 3 million people have switched to e-cigarettes and vapes - substituting tobacco for nicotine. 

Electronic cigarettes and vapour-based smoking falls out of smoke-free legislation, as they don't require a substance to be burnt in order to be smoked.

It’s important to seek advice from Public Health England before incorporating these smoking substances and devices into your smoke-free policy. With the right guidance, you can protect non-smokers from the dangers of second hand smoke inhalation. 

What is the penalty for smoking in the workplace?

Employers should clearly outline what the fine for smoking in the workplace is - through your smoke-free policy. Employees could face disciplinary penalties and monetary fines for up to £200 (or up to £50 in Scotland) from authorities.

Employers can also face legal fines of up to £2,500 if they don’t control people smoking on their premises. And not displaying no-smoking signs in the workplace, could further fines of up to £1,000.

Even though the Health and Safety Executive doesn't enforce smoke-free legislation, they can inspect your workplace for smoking-related issues. HSE inspectors will highlight workplace incidents and pass them onto the local authority who will deal with any non-compliance issues.

Smoking and productivity in the workplace

Many workers turn to smoking as a stress-reliever, despite its detrimental medical effects. Smoking harms not just health but also productivity, as workers who smoke can have have:

  • Higher rates of sick days.
  • Increase in absenteeism.
  • Delays in work submission.
  • Frequent smoking breaks which equates to less productivity.
  • Earlier retirement due to medical illnesses.

The benefits of having a smoke-free workplace

Smoking is the biggest contributing factor for preventable illness, premature death, and health inequality. So, no matter what size your business is, the benefits for creating a smoke-free workplace are vast, like:

  • Minimising safety and fire risks.
  • Reducing absenteeism and sick leave.
  • Lowering littering and cleaning expenses.
  • Lowering ventilation and air-conditioning costs.
  • Fewer smoke breaks (increasing morale with non-smokers and boosting productivity).

Legal risks of smoking in the workplace

Employers could be held liable for exposing workers to second-hand smoking in the workplace. Consequences for employers could include:

  • Paying workers’ compensation (for causing health risks like asthmatic or allergic reactions).
  • Breaching legal duty to provide a safe workplace.
  • Complacency for exposing vulnerable workers to second-hand smoking.

How can I support employees who want to stop smoking?

Research shows that having a smoke-free workplace can help smokers stop or significantly reduce their smoking input. You can support these employees by providing:

  • Information from medical professionals.
  • Self-help guides.
  • Professional health meetings.
  • Free or sponsored nicotine replacement therapy (like nicotine patches or gum).
  • Paid time off to attend courses.

Introduce a smoke-free policy into your business

Employers should also have a clear and accessible smoke-free policy, which can help employees deal with smoking issues in the workplace. By supporting health and wellbeing factors, you can help your employees better their work performance and lifestyle choices. 

Having a smoke-free policy will also protect workers who require special consideration, like pregnant workers, or those with respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. Your smoke-free policy should aim to:

  • Protect employees from the harms of second-hand smoke inhalation.
  • Keep legally compliant with the smoking ban law.
  • Positively support employees who want to stop smoking.
  • Make provisions for employees unable or unwilling to give up smoking.

Smoking ban exemptions

The smoking ban applies to all workplaces except where humanitarian grounds override legislation. Like within residential rooms, care homes, hospices, etc.

Here, it’s vital that employers follow Health & Safety legislation and reduce exposure to second hand smoke in the workplace. 

For exemptions to smoking in the workplace, employee rights outline that risks should be at a reasonable level. These work areas must be kept well ventilated and the smoke must not travel to other rooms.

Should smokers get more breaks than non-smokers?

The UK law permits employees to take one ‘rest break’ per working day, like lunch breaks, tea breaks, etc. For every six hours, working time law entitles workers to at least a 20-minute break. 

However, it isn't a legal requirement to have a smoke break policy in the workplace. Unless it’s contractually written, workers must take cigarette breaks within the timeframe of their rest break. 

Employers should avoid displaying preferable treatment to smokers. Through additional breaks for smoking, productivity in the workplace and team morale can be hugely affected.

Do I have to provide smokers a place to smoke?

Employers are not legally required to provide designated smoking areas in the workplace. However, if you provide a smoking shelter or area, the boundaries must be clearly defined and should comply with your business planning regulations

You must also carry out risk assessments for the area, ensuring that it’s used safely and can be accessed easily.

What does your smoking policy need to include? 

Smoking policies should set rules that are fair for both workers who smoke and those who don’t. The main points the policy should include are:

When smokers can and cannot smoke

Employers could restrict smoking to lunch breaks or within agreed smoking breaks. You could even strictly forbid smoking of any kind during all working hours.

Rules for smoking breaks

If you choose to have additional smoking breaks for your employees, set timeframes and monitor break lengths. This will ensure that smokers don’t abuse their smoke break benefits. Have employees notify their managers before going on a smoke break.

Smoking areas

All workers should be aware that smoking is illegal in enclosed buildings and public spaces. Whilst it isn’t a legal requirement, you can incorporate a designate smoking shelter or area on your premises. The space must be clearly signposted, be easily accessible, and not cause harm to others.

Smoking in company vehicles

You must clearly outline that smoking in shared company vehicles is illegal if it’s used by another worker. Employers must also display ‘no smoking signs’ within all company vehicles.

Rules on e-cigarettes and vaping

Employers should strongly consider including e-cigarettes and vaping into a smoking policy, to avoid accusations of bias treatment. A general statement on banning all forms of smoking, including alternative smoking devices and substances, should be sufficient.


Employees must take responsibility for keeping the smoking area tidy, as major health and safety hazards could occur if ignored. To avoid potential risks, smokers must dispose cigarette buts into bins rather than onto floors.

Consequences of breaching smoking rules

Your policy should clearly state all consequences for people who breach smoking rules. You should reprimand them with verbal warnings and follow through with disciplinary procedures for repeat offenders.

Peninsula offers expert advice on smoking in the workplace

Businesses can significantly benefit from having smoke-free policies, as you can assure employees that their health and wellbeing is cared for whilst working. 

Peninsula offers expert Health & Safety services for dealing with workers who smoke and those who want to quit. We also provide appropriate H&S information, supervision, and training on how to control health risks in the workplace.

Peninsula clients also get access to 24/7 HR consultation on safe working requirements. And if you are not yet a client, you can still enjoy free advice from one of our business specialists. Simply call us on 0800 028 2420.


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