Employees that smoke: what you need to know about their rights

Since the law states that smoking rooms are prohibited, smokers must go outside

The law is very clear on smoking restrictions in the UK. For more than a decade, it hasn’t been permitted in enclosed workplaces, nor is it allowed in any public building or any form of public transport.

Businesses are required to prominently display no smoking signs and enforce the legal ban on smoking in the workplace. Failure to do so can result in fines, not just for businesses, but for smokers who breach those restrictions.

Striking a balance

Where does this leave staff who smoke? Legally, employers are not required to provide additional breaks for the purpose of smoking.

All workers are entitled to work breaks such as lunch and coffee breaks, and if they use that time to smoke, that is their choice.

However, being totally inflexible with respect to additional smoking breaks can affect morale, but an approach which is too relaxed can mean friction with non-smokers who could end up covering for smokers’ extra breaks and working longer than their smoking colleagues as a result.

One solution is to have a policy on smoking breaks that is flexible and reasonable, so that both smokers and non-smokers are treated fairly, with a clear message that breaching that policy may result in disciplinary proceedings.

The policy may include how frequently breaks can be taken to smoke, how long those breaks can be, and rules for making up the work time taken to do so.

Since the law states that smoking rooms are prohibited, smokers must go outside. If you want your staff to smoke in a designated area outside, have it clearly marked, and provide waste receptacles to reduce litter around the work premises.

How your policy is implemented may depend on the industry and working environment. For example, it may be simple guidelines for employees to follow, or it may be written into the employees’ contract.

E-cigarettes and vaping

Currently, e-cigarettes fall outside of the smoking legislation, and employers can form their own policies on whether or not to allow vaping in the workplace.

Vaping is often used as part of an effort to give up smoking, and as an employer, you may want to support your employees by having a more relaxed policy on vaping.

At the same time, vaping in the workplace can still be a source of irritation for non-smokers, and the long term effect of passive smoking of e-cigarette vapour is still unknown.

Whatever policy you decide on, both for smoking and for vaping, consider the problem carefully, factor in the working environment, the facilities surrounding your premises, and the individuals in your workforce.

Make sure you talk to your staff about your preferred solution before it is implemented.

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