Banning smoking breaks at work – a small business guide
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Recently it has been highlighted in the news that councils across the UK are enacting ‘no-smoking-break’ policies amongst their staff.

Nottinghamshire County Council announced that they want to bar their 9,000 employees from smoking during work time, to include all of their buildings, land and vehicles. The aim being to ideally boost their workers’ health and avoid sick leave, as well as – of course – increasing the time they should spend working.

Despite smoking falling to its lowest levels in the UK since records began just a couple of years ago (and it’s probably still falling), if you’re a small employer you may still employ people who smoke. So, how can a small business manage staff who are smoking? Do you have the right to simply ban smoking breaks outright?

We’ve already spoken about managing those members of staff that use e-cigarettes instead of traditional tobacco, or even banning them. And similar rules apply here, but for traditional tobacco it could be seen as even simpler for employers to enforce – the health risks of cigarettes having been very well documented over the years.

Can you ban smoking breaks at work?

There is nothing stopping you from banning smoking breaks themselves, a worker has no right to take a break specifically for the purpose of smoking. In fact, if you have a number of non-smoking staff, having one or two employees who are almost constantly popping in and out for a cigarette might even cause unwanted disruption amongst your team.

However where the rules that Nottinghamshire County Council have set out differ is that they are stopping workers from smoking anywhere on their premises, even during designated 20 minute breaks (every six hours) set out by Working Time Regulations. Therefore effectively banning smoking breaks, rather than explicitly doing so.

The important thing here, as with many HR processes, is to effectively communicate with your staff what your policy is on smoking on your premises. It may be tricky to put into practice, however you will need to set out:

  • Where smokers can smoke – is there a ‘designated area’ onsite, somewhere away from your building? Or must they leave the company property completely.
  • What the consequences are for smoking outside of the ‘designated area’

Once you have this policy in place, it is also crucial to make sure that all staff have seen the document and have had the chance to raise any questions they might have too. It might be worth consulting with them beforehand, especially if you have a large number of smokers in your workplace.

It’s unlikely that you’ll need to include this in your employment contracts, but if you do decide to it’s worth remembering that any changes made to contracts must be agreed to by employees, so as not to break employment law.

So, banning smoking breaks might be a bit more complex than it first appears. However, as long as you remain fair and reasonable to all of your staff, managing smoking breaks should not be too difficult – even in a small business environment.

Get HR Support

If you’re unsure as to how to approach the subject of smoking breaks with your employees, our HR consultants can help.

Get in touch on or give us a call on 0333 014 3888 to find out more about how we can help your business with friendly, expert HR support.

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