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Do Employers Have to Give Staff Smoke Breaks?

Smoking is becoming less popular, but around 20% of the UK adult population do still smoke. So we were wondering - do employers have to give their staff smoke breaks?

Nottinghamshire County Council is considering banning smoke breaks during working hours and whilst staff are in uniform. They say it’s to boost workers’ health, increase time spent working, and reduce the levels of sick leave.

But can they do this? Well yes, they can actually. There is no legislation to say that an employer has to give staff breaks to smoke. A worker who works more than six hours per day has the right to a break of at least 20 minutes to use as they wish, but there is nothing to say that they have to have a break to smoke.

As an employer you can’t stop an employee from taking their break, or from saying what they can and can’t do whilst not working. You can, though, say that they can’t smoke whilst in uniform, or on company premises.

You may wish to draw up a smoking policy which could state whether you do or do not allow smoke breaks. But be aware that non-smokers may resent that their smoking colleagues get extra breaks. From an employee relations perspective, the ideal is that non-smokers have an equal number of breaks to smokers and this may also reduce the potential for grievances being raised.

You could consider adopting a policy on smoking in the workplace and amending your disciplinary policy to cover smoking breaks and smoking in non-designated areas. If you wish to prohibit the use of e-cigarettes, or vaping, in the workplace, you should ensure that the smoking and disciplinary policies expressly cover e-cigarettes. As e-cigarettes produce a vapour when a liquid nicotine cartridge is heated, the use of e-cigarettes may not be covered by a prohibition on smoking. Make sure you’re clear and that employees fully understand your policies.

Jim Lister is a Business Employment Lawyer at Slater and Gordon in Manchester.

If you need legal advice about any aspect of business employment, the lawyers at Slater and Gordon have many years’ experience in employment law. Call us on freephone 0800 223 0533 or contact us online and we will call you.

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