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Smoking Breaks


Some workers are going out on unauthorised smoke breaks, this has led to complaints from non-smoking employees some. Am I under any obligations to give a set number of smoking breaks to employees?

The introduction of the rules banning smoking in the workplace created a whole new set of questions for employers in relation to how to support their employees who smoke and what form that help should take.

The rules banning smoking in the workplace have come in through health and safety considerations so any steps a company takes in relation to smoking should keep in mind the underlying purpose of the legislation, which is to protect everyone’s health. It is important to remember that this isn’t just about protecting non-smokers but all staff.

There is no obligation on employers under statute to give employees smoking breaks during the day but employees may have a right to breaks within their contract which they can use to smoke. There is a big debate on whether or not employers should allow employees to take smoking breaks and the question of fairness towards both smokers and non-smokers.

Where the contract does not allow the right to breaks then an employer does not have to provide them. An employer is entitled to expect their employees to spend their contractual time working. There is usually a debate between smokers and non-smokers about breaks. Smokers will often argue that they work harder and more efficiently than their non-smoking colleagues because they are effectively getting all of their work done in less time. Non-smokers will argue that it is unfair that they should have to spend more time working than their smoking colleagues for the same amount of pay as well as saying that they carry out more work than their colleagues because they are concentrating more on their own work and covering the work of their smoking colleagues when they are away from their work station.

Companies have to make sure that they enforce any smoking restrictions with all due seriousness in order that employees are aware of the consequences of breaching the rules in addition to protecting the company from litigation. If a company designates smoke exclusion zones and specifies the areas in which employees are allowed to smoke then they must take action if employees are spotted breaking those rules. The company handbook must make it clear what the consequences are for breach of the company’s smoking rules and these must be enforced through the disciplinary procedures if necessary.

For any further information regarding the issues above, please call our Advice Service on 0844 892 4402
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