Smoking Breaks at Work

Smoking breaks have been known to divide many an office. But how many breaks are employers required to provide? And is a smoking break one of them?

Many employers have heard complaints or noticed silent protest from non-smoking employees about the additional breaks afforded their smoking co-workers. And Smokers often assert that it is their ‘right’ to smoke breaks since they can no longer smoke at work. But, what are the rules for employers?

The Rules on Employee Breaks

Employees who work at least 6 hours in a day are entitled to one, twenty minute, ‘rest break’ under the Working Time Regulations. Employees may use this break to eat, relax, or, if they wish, to smoke.

Employers are not required to pay employees during their rest break.

Additional breaks during a workday – smoke breaks for example – are not an employee right unless this appears in their contract of employment as a contractual right.

Breaks Employers Must Provide*

Rest Break

Adult Workers: One 20-minute break for each shift of 6 or more hours.
Young Workers: One 30-minute break for each shift of 4.5 or more hours.

Daily Rest Break

Adult Workers: Not less than 11 consecutive hours between one work day and the next.
Young Workers: Not less than 12 consecutive hours between one work day and the next.

Weekly Rest Break

Adult Workers: 24 hours in each seven day period. 48 hours in each 14 day period.
Young Workers: 48 hours in each seven day period.

Employers are not required to pay employees during any break periods although a large majority of employers do pay employees during the Rest Break.

Rules About Workplace Smoking

Since 1 July 2007, smoking is not permitted within any enclosed or partially enclosed workplace in the UK. Employers are not allowed to create separate smoking areas inside a building for smokers.

This smoking ban includes work-provided vehicles used by more than one person even if they use the vehicle at different times. Smoke-free vehicles are required to carry signs in each passenger compartment.

Additionally, for those who work from home, any portion of the dwelling principally used for business must be smoke-free if another person works in the space or members of the public visit the workspace to receive or deliver goods or services.

What Substances are Included in the Smoke-Free Ban?

The smoke-free ban covers:

  • Manufactured or hand-rolled cigarettes
  • Pipes including water pipes, shisha, and hookah pipes
  • Cigars
  • Herbal cigarettes

What About Vaping?

Vaping, as such, is not covered under the rules applied to smoking since nothing technically burns.

However, electronic cigarettes do release nicotine and (often) odours in the vapour. Some employers have banned the use of electronic cigarettes in the workplace either as a stand-alone rule or as part of their larger smoking policies.

Do Employers Have to Provide a Smoking Shelter?

No. Employers are not required to offer an outdoor shelter or smoking area.

Employers are free to ban smoking on the entire property. However, any such policy would need to be carefully written since such a policy could create substantial workplace tension or be viewed as overly restrictive particularly if employees cannot leave the workplace property.

Employers choosing to offer a smoking space should ensure the shelters do not in-and-of-themselves run afoul of the smoke-free workplace ban or create secondary problems. Considerations for how the smoking area is enclosed, where the smoke drifts, and disposal of cigarette butts and other litter should be considered.

Consequences of Smoking Laws

Failure to follow or enforce workplace smoking laws are criminal offences. These offences apply to anyone who smokes (even if not inhaling), managers who don’t enforce smoking rules, or failure to post the appropriate signage. Workers can be fined up to £200 and employers can be fined up to £2,500.

Employers concerned about creating or amending their work-place smoking policies are encouraged to contact DLP to ensure their policies follow all rules and are fair to employees.


Smoking at Work Law
Work-place Rest Breaks Law

* Additional restrictions and regulations apply. Should you have any question about employee break periods feel free to contact DLP.

Should you have any questions feel free to reach out to our help line. DLP advisors are available to answer any questions you may have at 0330 400 4495.