Cigarette Breaks: Should You Provide Them?

Ben McCarthy

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12 Jul 2019

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Employees are not automatically entitled to take additional breaks to smoke during the working day, and you are legally able to stop them from doing so.

However, before you do, you should weigh up the pros and cons of these breaks.

Should you be providing cigarette breaks?

What the law says

Under the Working Time Regulations, adult employees should be provided with a rest break period of at least 20 minutes if they work for more than six hours in a working day. This means that, as long as you are allowing them opportunity in which to take this, there is no obligation for you to permit any additional time for smoking purposes.

It is therefore down to you whether or not to give additional cigarette breaks. That said, there are a number of things you should be aware of.

The potential risks

Since 2007 it has been illegal to smoke in public places, meaning any smoking breaks will likely need to take place outside of company premises.

The time taken to reach a specified smoking area could easily mount up, leading to employees taking significant periods away from their work and impacting upon how productive they are.

You should also bear in mind that employees who do not smoke may complain that they are not being provided an equal amount of breaks to their smoking colleagues, which could foster accusations of preferential treatment for the smokers and potentially leave non-smokers feeling isolated.

To counteract this, you may consider letting non-smokers have these additional breaks as well, which could further contribute to decreased productivity.

How to effectively provide smoking breaks

If you do allow your employees additional smoking breaks, it is highly advisable that you construct a strong workplace policy to clarify company rules surrounding this.

The policy can be used to outline the times during the day that employees are permitted to have a smoking break and whether non-smokers will also be able to take a break at these times too.  If you don’t wish to provide any additional time for employees for these breaks, you may consider imposing a rule that they need to make this time up later.

For example, if employees have a 10 minute break in the morning to smoke, they’d be expected to take 10 minutes off their lunch hour. If they don’t take this break, they can have their full hour as normal.

Encourage quitting

Of course, employees who smoke are likely to do this during general break times and it will be difficult for you to try and stop them during their own free time.

If you wish to encourage your employees to stop smoking, you could instead take steps to raise awareness of the potential health issues associated with it, such as through the use of a smoking cessation program. These programs are typically designed to teach employees how to quit by providing them with counselling and techniques that can assist in breaking the habit.

Expert support

If you are experiencing difficulties with your employees taking smoking breaks, or want to introduce a smoking break policy, or you just have an HR issue you need advice on, call a Croner expert today on 01455 858 132.

About the Author

Ben McCarthy works as a content writer for Croner producing commentary and guidance on employment law and key HR developments. Coming from an extensive legal background, Ben regularly constructs key training materials for clients and advisers, and provides daily contributions to national publications.

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