It is common for employers to allow workers breaks for a quick cigarette, but make sure you understand your legal obligations and have clear rules on smoking in the workplace. 

What does the law say about smoking in the workplace?

Since 2007, smoking has not permitted in any enclosed workplace. You have a number of legal obligations which must be complied with to avoid fines.

  • Duty to display signs

Employers must have “no smoking signs” displayed in all workplaces. A failure to comply with this duty will mean that a business can be fined up to £1,000.

  • Prevent smoking

You must ensure that people do not smoke in enclosed work premises or shared vehicles otherwise you may face a fine of up to £2,500.

  • Smoking in work vehicles

It is not permissible to smoke in any work vehicle that is used by more than one person. If a company car is only used by one worker, they may smoke subject to the employer’s approval.

  • Smoking breaks

By law, workers do not have a specific right to a break for the purposes of smoking. Under the Working Time Regulations, workers are entitled to a minimum uninterrupted rest break of 20 minutes during any working day that exceeds 6 hours. Therefore a worker may smoke during their lunch or coffee break, but this must be outside of any enclosed workplace.

How do I deal with smoking in the workplace?

Letting people go for frequent smoking breaks can bring about tension amongst other workers who do not smoke and do not take these breaks. Nobody likes to see their colleague going in and out of the office while they are sat at their desk working. They may get annoyed at having to pick up their colleague’s phone or cover their work while they are gone. They may de disgruntled at seeing how others essentially get a paid break. This can lead to grievances and difficult team dynamics.

On the other side of the coin, if someone is just counting the minutes and hours until they can have a cigarette, this can negatively affect their productivity level and overall morale.

So it is important to have a clear policy, which outlines when they can smoke. It should also set out what happens if someone does not abide by them, for example, a failure to abide by the rules may result in disciplinary action being taken.

You may take a number of approaches, for example, you may say that smoking breaks must be kept to a minimum. You should remind workers to think about when they are taking a smoking break – they should not take one at particularly busy times of the day or when there are limited workers available as it could create increased workloads or pressure for others.

Alternatively, you may specify that employees should not spend more than X minutes in a day taking smoking breaks.

You may take a stricter approach and say that smoking is only permitted during designated break times.

Whatever approach you take, you should make sure you also mention whether the rules extend to electronic cigarettes and other types of vaporisers.

You should also make sure that all staff know about the policy. When a new employee joins, the rules should be included as part of their induction. Managers should apply and enforce the policy in a fair and consistent way.

Contact Ellis Whittam today to see how we can help you. Our Employment Law Advisers can prepare a bespoke Employee Handbook to ensure legal compliance and best practice.

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