Smoking and vaping laws at work: These are your cigarette break rights

If you’re a smoker then nipping out for a cigarette or vape at work may be much needed.

Wednesday, 7th August 2019, 10:10 am
If youre a smoker then nipping out for a cigarette or vape at work may be much needed
If youre a smoker then nipping out for a cigarette or vape at work may be much needed

But what breaks are you entitled to when at work if you smoke or vape?

Smoke-free workplaces

Although public health laws in the UK now state that enclosed or substantially enclosed workplaces and public places must be smoke free, Trade union Unison explains that support should be given at work for those who do smoke.

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If youre a smoker then nipping out for a cigarette or vape at work may be much needed

Unison senior national officer for business, community and environment Donna Rowe-Merriman said: “Employees have a right to work in safe and healthy environments, which are free from second-hand smoke.

“At the same time, smoking is addictive and we recognise some people have real difficulties giving up this habit, which may mean they need to take regular breaks.

“Employers should support staff to quit smoking. We’ve found a total ban often isn’t workable and can lead to unnecessary disciplinary action, resulting in the loss of valued team members.”

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) explains that although smoking is forbidden within workplace premises, organisations can make certain areas available at work for smoking areas. However, employers do not have to provide a smoking shelter. If they do it must comply with the legal requirements.

Vaping and e-cigarettes

ACAS also adds that, although employers could allow staff to vape in the workplace, they should consider the needs of the business and the wider workforce.

Paul Holcroft, Associate Director at HR consultancy Croner explains that although “employees may be under the impression that vaping doesn’t fall within any ‘no-smoking’ rules because of the obvious differences” employers are still “able to construct rules on vaping in a similar vein and can, therefore, choose to ban it in the workplace.

“For consistency, it is likely to be better to apply the exact same rules to vaping as smoking to avoid any confusion or complaints of unequal treatment.”

When it comes to e-cigarettes, ACAS explains that employers should be clear about what their rules are on the use of them at work.

Where vaping is restricted, employers could also put up signs or notices in the workplace, which makes it clear where it is allowed and where it is banned, including any rules that relate to the use of e-cigarettes at work.

Smoking and vaping breaks

Regarding taking a break to go for a smoke or vape, Mr Holcroft explains, “There is no statutory right to 'smoking breaks'. But employees are legally permitted to one 'rest break' while at work - this can be for anything from a tea break to a lunch break, as well as a cigarette break.”

“As an employer, you can offer additional breaks, which should be included in your employees’ contract or handbook.”

Tom Neil, ACAS senior guidance adviser said, “While vaping is not forbidden in workplaces, an employer can decide whether to allow workers to vape inside or not.

“To avoid feelings of unfairness, workers that smoke or vape should not have more break time than other staff. However an employer could consider allowing them to have several shorter breaks that still add up to the same amount of break time throughout the day.

“To ensure consistency and understanding, an employer should consider a policy setting out the rules for smoking or vaping at work.”

This could include:

- How many can be taken

- How long the break may last

- Any requirements about covering the work whilst on a break