Smoking in the workplace – Managing the side effects

Year Published: 2015

The effect of smoking appears to be a constant issue in the news.

On 1 October 2015 further limitations will be placed on smokers when it will become illegal to smoke in a vehicle in the presence of any one under the age of 18.

We have considered the potential impact of smoking in the workplace and have set out some guidance on addressing the common issues faced by businesses.

Smoking breaks

Most businesses have a designated area where smokers can go to smoke but few set clear guidelines on when employees are actually permitted to take a smoking break.

This can lead to disgruntled non-smoking staff who, in some serious cases, are having to work whilst their smoking colleagues are taking 10-15 minute breaks every hour.

Setting clear guidelines on breaks for smoking staff can prevent this. Whilst not allowing employees to smoke at all during the working day would, we believe, be impractical, you could for example make it clear to staff that smoking breaks will be deducted from their main lunch break.

Whilst this may be difficult to monitor and manage, having a policy in place will at least ensure that employees do not think they have unlimited time to play with throughout the day.

The use of e-cigarettes

Electronic cigarettes fall outside of the standard definition of smoking described in the Health & Safety Act 2006 as the act of smoking requires a substance, usually tobacco, to be burnt.

Employers do therefore currently still have the option of allowing employees to ‘smoke’ e-cigarettes within their buildings.

Employers may want to consider the following points when deciding whether or not to incorporate e-cigarettes into their no-smoking policy;

  • E-cigarettes are being used by 2.6million current or former smokers, therefore employers may wish to support employees who use them as an aid to give up smoking
  • The vapour from the e-cigarettes may cause a nuisance to colleagues and could, potentially, pose a health risk as the long-term effects of passive consumption are still unknown. As are the long-term effects of e-cigarettes in general.
  • Some e-cigarettes look similar to real cigarettes and therefore customers/colleagues may mistake them for a real cigarette. Line managers should therefore be aware of which employees use e-cigarettes and when/where they are using them. Employers may decide that it’s more appropriate to have a designated area for e-cigarette use, rather than allow employees to use these whilst sitting at their workstation.

A final thought

If you do choose to incorporate e-cigarettes into your no smoking policy, this policy should be clear and readily available to all employees.

Clear signs should be in place to indicate where smoking is allowed and employees should be advised about when smoking breaks are permitted and if these are to be deducted from lunch breaks or ‘main’ rest breaks.

For more information on how to implement a smoking policy in your workplace or any other employment law matters, please contact our Employment Law & HR team on 0161 475 7676.

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