Smoking at work: what are your rights and what can your boss do to help you quit?

It's likely your boss wouldn't think twice if you stepped away from the desk to make a quick cup of tea but if you're a smoker and taking regular breaks your habit could be costing your employer time and money.

Thursday, 5th October 2017, 3:57 pm
Updated Friday, 8th June 2018, 4:33 am

There may be fewer people smoking in Britain than ever before (around 9.1 million adult smokers) according to Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), but unofficial smoking breaks remain a controversial issue with employers.

A study by The Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) for the British Heart Foundation (2014) found that UK businesses lose around £8.7 billion and 136 hours of working time every year as a result of cigarette breaks.

So if you do smoke, what are your rights at work and, if you want to quit, what could your employer be doing to help you?

Stoptober is the ideal time to quit smoking for good

What are your rights as a smoker?

Legally, workers have the right to one uninterrupted 20 minute break during a working day (over six hours), however, unless a contract specifically states it, workers are not actually entitled to take smoking breaks. It’s really down to the employer’s discretion as to whether smokers can nip out for an unofficial break.

What about vaping?

The Government says employers need to make a clear distinction between smoking and vaping as e-cigarettes are normally used as a tool to stop smoking and aren’t covered by the same laws as cigarettes.

Employers are therefore currently free to decide whether e-cigarettes can be used in the workplace or in shared vehicles.

However employers are encouraged to consider a different outdoor area for vaping so to not hinder those who are trying to quit or affect non-smoking workers indoors.

How could your boss help you quit?

Although businesses must display ‘no smoking’ signs in the workplace and ensure people don’t smoke in enclosed work spaces or shared vehicles there’s far more employers can do to help their staff kick the habit.

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of ASH explains, “Employers can do a lot to help their employees quit smoking, and it’s in their interests to do so. Smokers not only lose time through smoking breaks, they also take more time off sick.”

She adds: “By providing support and encouragement, including where possible onsite help to quit, employers can improve the health and wellbeing of their staff while creating a more profitable and productive workplace.”

Employers can help colleagues kick the habit by following ASH’s stop smoking at work advice:

Publicise the interventions identified in this guidance and make information on local stop smoking support services widely available at work. This information should include details on the type of help available, when and where, and how to access the services.

Be responsive to individual needs and preferences. Where feasible, and where there is sufficient demand, provide on-site stop smoking support.

Allow staff to attend smoking cessation services during working hours without loss of pay.

Develop a smoking cessation policy in collaboration with staff and their representatives as one element of an overall smokefree workplace policy.