The lowdown on smoking breaks at work

Kate Palmer - HR Advice and Consultancy Director

January 05 2018

A Japanese company recently made the news for giving non-smokers six extra days’ holiday each year to make up for the time that colleagues spent on smoking breaks. Would you consider doing the same for your staff? Maybe it’s a little bit much for smaller businesses to put in place. But smoking breaks can cause quite a bit of disruption and even hostility from non-smokers. So here’s what you need to know about it. The root of the issue The smoking ban in 2007 made it illegal for people to smoke indoors. Soon after, many employers introduced company policies stating their rules on smoking. But no matter the rules, some employees still sneak out of work to smoke—it could be happening at your company right now. Even if you choose to let it slide, it’s likely their non-smoking colleagues have noticed and aren’t too happy about it. So what does the law say about it? No right to smoking breaks There is no legal right to take extra smoking breaks. All adult workers are entitled to a minimum rest break of twenty minutes if they work more than six hours. This break (and any additional breaks you give staff) can be for smoking, but staff are not entitled to extra time off work for it. Set out the rules In your company’s smoking policy, outline:

  • When smoking can take place, i.e. whether this is prohibited during working hours
  • Where smoking is permitted on work premises
  • The rules on smoking in company cars
  • The rules about smoking on third party premises
  • The consequences of breaching the rules

What about e-cigarettes? The current smoking ban does not cover e-cigarettes. Employers can allow staff to vape e-cigarettes at work, but it’s rare. Some employers think that vaping e-cigarettes presents a bad image and others find the water vapour clouds annoying. Plus, treating e-cigarette smokers differently to normal smokers could cause further divide in your workplace. The best option is to apply the same rules to e-cigarettes and cigarettes (and any other ways people smoke). Either update your current smoking policy to include e-cigarettes or introduce a separate policy.

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