Mar 2016
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Rachel Clayfield says there’s one habit that all employers need to get into. Don’t leave your smoking policy smouldering behind the bike shed. Get it out into the open. Read on for some top tips on how to bring clarity into the workplace.

The 9th March is No Smoking Day. OK, so we have days for everything nowadays – we’ve already had Hedgehog Day and Ferris Wheel Day and I always make a heroic effort to celebrate Biscuit Day (on 29th May if you are interested!) But this one is worth talking about. Despite the bans on smoking in public places, 10 million people in the UK still smoke. This means it’s highly likely that some people at your work pop out for cigarettes during the day.


Hang on though – I’m an employment lawyer, not a doctor, so why am I talking about smoking? Let me be clear. I’m not here to join the multitudes clamouring for you to quit. It’s your choice, after all! But smoking does have an influence within the workplace and there are legal aspects to think about. It’s my job to help employers and employees navigate hot topics like this.

First of all, the legal stuff. Smoking in enclosed workplaces is illegal and employers must display no smoking signs in all places of work. Staff smoking rooms are no longer allowed, so smokers must go outside in all weathers to get their nicotine hit. They can’t even take shelter in their company vans because smoking is banned in vehicles used by more than one person.

If you ignore these laws, you could soon see your money going up in smoke. Employers may need to pay £2,500 if they don’t comply with anti smoking legislation, and workers who break the law face fines of up to £200.

What does this mean? Employees who smoke need to take cigarette breaks outside, rather than smoking whilst they work. This raises a few key questions. Where can your employees go to smoke? How many breaks before their habit becomes a drag on your resources?


Employers may be fine with the odd five minutes here and there, but it all adds up. Research suggests that smokers spend an average of an hour a day on cigarette breaks, and a significant number smoke up to 20 cigarettes during work hours.

Legally, employees who work more than 6 hours a day are entitled to one unpaid 20-minute break. Taking breaks during the day is a good thing – it boosts concentration, allows employees to stretch their legs and gives their eyes a rest from the computer screen. But why should smokers get all the breaks? Non smoking colleagues may feel it’s unfair and take less visible time out – longer chats with colleagues and more leisurely coffee trips…

It’s worth clearing the air and talking openly about this topic. How about giving all staff set breaks, say 10 minutes in the morning and afternoon, and an hour for lunch. Then make it clear that any additional breaks, whether for smoking, personal emails or a quick nip to the shops, are unpaid.


Since smoking was banned in the workplace in 2007, e-cigarettes have become more popular. More than two million people in the UK have replaced smoking with ‘vaping’. According to the law, the act of smoking requires a substance to be burnt. This means e-cigarettes fall outside the scope of smoke free legislation, so employers can choose what to do about vaping.

It’s a difficult decision. Some employees use e-cigarettes as part of a plan to stop smoking, so employers may want to support their use. What’s more, forcing e-cigarette users to smoke them in designated areas next to cigarette smokers may hinder them giving up. On the other hand, the vapour from e-cigarettes may be distracting to some employees. And we still don’t know whether passive consumption of the vapour could become a health risk, because the long term effects of e-cigarettes are unknown. It’s also worth thinking about the impression you might give to employees or customers. Some e-cigarettes look similar to real cigarettes so people could think that you are breaking the law by allowing smoking within the workplace.

Here’s a middle ground – how about designating specific e-cigarette areas, away from cigarette smokers? If smoking e-cigarettes is allowed at work, line managers should be aware of who may be smoking them within their teams. It is best to make it a rule that line management approval is needed to smoke e-cigarettes in the workplace.


Whatever you decide, you need a smoking policy that sets it all out clearly. As well as explaining where employees can and cannot smoke and whether e-cigarettes are banned, you can also warn employees that breach of the policy may result in disciplinary action and fines.

If you haven’t got a clear policy, or your policy was drafted before e-cigarettes were a thing, give me a call and we can work through this together.