Smoking Breaks at Work

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Health Assured team

07 January 2022

Since the UK-wide national ban, it’s reported that people have significantly reduced or ended overall smoking habits.

Arguably, the ban has led to a popular rise in e-cigarettes and vapes – meaning employers now need to deal with implied smoking guidelines.

When it comes to work and smoke breaks, there is an obvious disparity created between employees. A debate on whether smokers are allowed additional breaks emerges. And how it will directly affect workplace production and morale.

Employers require an objective ruling when it comes to smoke breaks. Or else they could risk facing discrimination charges and damages to the business.

Read about the UK law on smoking breaks at work; managing rights for non-smoking employees; and whether you can ban smoke breaks altogether.

What is a smoke break?

A smoke break during work is when an employee decides to use their rest break to smoke.

These breaks are taken during their legal or contractual rest periods. But they can also be additional breaks provided through work policies.

Some companies have a blanket-ban on smoking in and around the workplace. Whilst others have a designated smoking post or shelter employees can use.

What counts are smoking?

Smoking is defined as, possessing a lit substance that can be inhaled or exhaled.

There are many materials and devices which fall under the umbrella term for smoking. Some devices can include:

  • Cigarettes.
  • Cigars.
  • Pipes (including water pipes).
  • Electronic cigarettes (including vapes).

The substances that are most commonly smoked are tobacco, drugs, and chemical materials.

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Are you allowed smoke breaks at work?

It is completely up to the employer to implement additional smoking breaks.

Employees should ideally receive the same breaks at work – unless contracts state otherwise. This includes tea breaks, lunch breaks, and smoking breaks.

Employees are entitled to a rest break depending on their daily work hours. For every 6 hours, they should receive a minimum of 20 minutes rest.

If your staff receive a one-hour lunch break daily, employees should use this time to smoke.

You can allow additional smoke breaks within your company. But this could lead to workplace inequality, causing effects on morale and productivity.

UK laws on smoking breaks at work

There is no official statutory right on smoking breaks at work in UK law. Whilst there’s no legal ruling, employees are still legally permitted to one ‘rest break’ – to do whatever they what, within reason.

The smoking ban regulations were included under the Health Act (2006). The act banned any kind of smoking in enclosed or partially enclosed places. The ban then extended to public places, transport, and workplaces.

Can you legally ban smoking breaks at work?

Employers can ban smoke breaks at work, but they must be cautious before doing so.

When it comes to staff rights and entitlements, you need to create a balance between those who smoke and those who don’t.

On one hand, employers are legally obliged to protect the health and safety of their staff. Which means, they must encourage and grow a smoke-free workplace and eliminate any health risks.

But on the other hand, having no smoke breaks at work – or banning it – is could be unreasonable based on humanitarian or even medical grounds.

Addictions are legally recognised as disabilities; and nicotine addiction is classed as a diagnosable mental disorder.

You need to be wary of company-wide bans – as this can lead to claims of discrimination and unfavourable treatment. Which can lead to tribunal hearings and compensation fees.

How to handle smoke breaks in the workplace

It is entirely your decision on allowing additional smoke breaks. Break entitlement rules must be added to employment contracts and smoking breaks at work policies.

UK laws and regulations on smoking must still be followed around the workplace. So, set clear guidelines on where they can smoke and how many smoke breaks are allowed at work.

You could implement additional rest breaks for non-smokers too, so they have the same amount of time for daily breaks. Whatever you decide, apply the best choice for your staff whilst tending to your business production.

If you want to introduce a smoke-free policy, here are factors to consider:

  • Outline your smoke break rules (are they taken during rest breaks or specific smoke breaks).
  • State where smoking is allowed; ie, in a designating smoking area.
  • List which smoking devices and substances are banned (include e-cigarette and vaping).
  • Ban all smoking on work premises and company vehicles.
  • Rules on smoking whilst working remotely or at home.

Consequences for breaching the policy

You must clearly demonstrate the consequences for breaching your smoking-free policy.

Both you and your business could face substantial penalties for breaching smoking regulations. Outline disciplinary punishments for anyone guilty of smoking on work premises. This can also include a fine of up to £200, by governing authorities.

Employers themselves could also face fines of up to £2,500 if they mismanage smoking at work. And if they fail to display ‘no-smoking’ signs, this could lead an additional £1,000 on top.

Get expert advice on smoke breaks with Health Assured

As an employer it can prove to be complicated to create balance when your employees want different things. The most important thing to remember is legal compliance and moral support for them.

Whether you are for or against smoking breaks, it’s vital to have thorough reasonable working adjustments – to meet both staff and business needs.

But ensure you follow legislations on smoking bans and workplace equality. Failing this, you could face discrimination charges and business damage.

Health Assured provides expert advice on smoking breaks. Our team offer specialised knowledge on employee rights and wellbeing, as well as protection from potential penalties and disruption.

We provide a 24/7 helpline, that’s open 365 days a year – helping you care for your staff all year round. Arrange a call back from an expert today on 0844 891 0352.

Supporting your employees mental health with an EAP

Our Employee Assistance Programme provides guidance and supports your employees with their mental health in the workplace and in life. We can help you create a safe, productive workspace that supports all.

We support employees mental wellbeing with any problems they might be facing in their professional or personal lives with our 24-hour counselling helpline.

Did you know that for every £1 invested in an employee assistance programme, organisations can expect to see, on average a 10x return on investment.

Find out more about EAPs



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