Smoking breaks and how to manage them

On Friday 31 May 2019 it is World No Tobacco Day, but does smoking cause a problem in your workplace?

In July 2007, it became unlawful to smoke in enclosed public spaces. This meant that smoking in most places of work, including bars, shops, offices, factories, warehouses and distribution centres – and in shared vehicles used for work – was banned.

Nowadays, workers are used to the smoking ban and it is rare for us to get asked to conduct a disciplinary procedure with someone who has been smoking somewhere they shouldn’t be. But what is more commonplace, is people sneaking off site for a cigarette or abusing smoking breaks!

Before the ban, 22% of adults in the UK smoked cigarettes. Ten years later, in 2017, this was down to to 15.5% of adults. But more and more people are now turning to e-cigarettes and vaping as an alternative to cigarettes – and although these devices aren’t unlawful in enclosed public spaces, many employers have included them in their smoking ban.

This means we still have a significant proportion of workers who need a break during their working day to have a cigarette – and this needs to be managed.

Can you refuse to allow smoking breaks?

Yes. You can insist that staff only take breaks – including lunch breaks – in accordance with your rules and/or rota. There is no legal obligation to allow smoking breaks.

Can you stipulate that workers must smoke away from your premises, and out of their uniform?

Yes. If you’re concerned that staff leaning up against your front door having a cigarette might be bad for business, you can specify that they must use a designated smoking shelter – or move away from your premises.

If you’re concerned that staff smoking in their uniform may reflect poorly on your business – for example, if you’re in a health and lifestyle company or organisation – and it doesn’t fit with your image, then you can specify that staff must not wear their uniform when smoking.

This may also apply if you’re in the food services industry, and your customers have complained about the smell of cigarettes.

Can you allow a worker to split their rest break up into smoking breaks?

Yes, but take care. If you allow your workers to split their rest breaks up in to smoking breaks, you must ensure that they still have one uninterrupted break of at least 20 minutes, if their shift is going to last for six hours or more.

You may also need to monitor their breaks to ensure they don’t take more than they’re entitled to.

Should you limit the number of smoking breaks you allow?

That depends! Some staff are better at self-managing than others. If you’re going to allow smoking breaks in addition to other breaks, you may find that some staff are disciplined and only take one or two five-minute breaks a day, whereas others take far more.

You might want to link the number of smoking breaks to the number of hours worked, for example allowing one five-minute break per four hours worked.

Again, you may need to monitor the number of breaks taken – and discipline those who abuse the rules.

Should you allow non-smokers a break to even things up?

Probably. There is no legal obligation for you to do this, as the reason for one person getting more breaks than another isn’t down to a ‘protected characteristic’ such as race, sex, or religion.

However, if the non-smokers notice that they’re getting fewer breaks, you may get some grumbles and morale may drop.

In October 2017, it was announced that Japanese firm Piala Inc had decided to give non-smokers an additional six days holiday per year. This was because the offices were on the 29th floor of a tower block, meaning each time a worker went for a cigarette break they were gone at least 15 minutes. The firm hoped that it would appease the non-smokers and also incentivise the smokers to quit.

In reality, if the smokers had all quit and taken up the extra six days holiday, Piala Inc would still have been better off – two 15-minute cigarette breaks per day for 230 days per year adds up to over 16 days off!

As always, if our blog has been helpful or prompted more questions, please get in touch with us!

Our number is 01484 680098 and Kate, who wrote this blog, can also be contacted by email on [email protected]