Once an hour or perhaps every two? Will anyone even notice? It can be a controversial topic, but these are your rights to smoking at work
If you’re a smoker, are you legally entitled to a few minutes a day out of the office for a quick cigarette break?
It’s a question that divides many offices – with those without the habit claiming it’s simply unfair to give smokers that extra time out.
But legally, what does the law say about it?
The answer is no. Fag breaks aren’t a legal entitlement, however, ‘rest breaks’ are – and your employer can’t technically refuse you one.
That’s providing you’re within your minimum hours and the relevant time frame.
There’s no statutory right to ‘smoking breaks’.
However, workers in the UK are legally permitted to one ‘rest break’ whilst at work – this can be a tea break, lunch break, cigarette break or whatever you want it to be.
The break must be at least 20 minutes in length, providing you have worked six hours or more that day. Additional breaks may be offered by your employer in your contract or handbook.
It’s worth noting that employers aren’t obliged to pay for you for this time out, it depends entirely on their terms of employment.
Rest breaks’ – lunch breaks, tea breaks and other short breaks during the day
‘Daily rest’ – the break between finishing one days’ work and starting the next (for most people this is overnight between week days)
‘Weekly rest’ – whole days when you don’t come into work (for many people this will be the weekend)
The second and third types of break are almost never paid, unless you’re ‘on call’. The first type is often paid but your employer is not legally obliged to do so.
Smoking is forbidden within workplace premises, however organisations are allowed to have ‘smoking areas’.
They do not have to provide a smoking shelter but if they do, it must comply with legal requirements.
If your job is organised so that you can’t take breaks, or if your employer doesn’t allow you to take them, you should first raise the matter with your manager, or HR department.
If you have an employee representative like a trade union official or health and safety representative, they can take up the matter for you.
According to figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), more people than ever are replacing tobacco with vape, with 2.9 million people currently using an e-cigarette and the number of traditional smokers down 4% since 2010.
Electronic cigarettes are made to mimic the act of smoking, there is no actual tobacco, but instead just nicotine. The devices do not need to be lit up as they’re battery operated. They also produce a vapour, rather than traditional smoke.
Vapes fall outside the scope of smoke free legislation as the act of smoking requires a substance to be burnt. As a result, it’s up to the employer whether they choose to allow or ban e-cigarettes, and similar products, in the workplace.
Smoking isn’t permitted in any enclosed workplace in the UK and workplaces are not allowed to have staff smoking rooms.
Unless your contract says so, you don’t have the right to take a smoking break at anytime outside of your allotted break time.
Workers can be fined up to £200 (or up to £50 in Scotland) for smoking in the workplace.
Employers are not required to provide a smoking shelter – but must comply with legislation if they do so.
If a work vehicle is used by more than one person, then smoking is prohibited within the vehicle, regardless of whether they are in the vehicle at the same time. Smoke-free vehicles must display a no-smoking sign in each part of the vehicle in which people can travel.
If you work from home, and there is more than one person (who doesn’t live on site) who uses part of the dwelling solely as a place of work – that part must be smoke-free. It must also be smoke-free if members of the public attend to deliver or receive goods or services.
Residential care homes and hospices can offer smoking rooms, but these can only be used by residents. These rooms must be well ventilated and smoke must not get into other rooms.
Businesses who don’t stop people from smoking in the workplace can be fined up to £2,500.