Guide | Should employers help employees quit smoking?

As of 2007, smoking is not permitted in any enclosed workplace, but often, you can see a group of people smoking a cigarette during a rest break outside the premises.

We all know that smoking is bad for our health and can have long-term implications, such as lung cancer and respiratory diseases. But it can be very hard to call it quits. Should employers help employees quit smoking?

By law, are employers required to give employees smoking breaks?

No. Workers do not have a specific right to a break for the purposes of smoking. However, they do have the right to a minimum uninterrupted rest break of 20 minutes during any working day that exceeds 6 hours. Therefore a worker may smoke during their lunch or coffee break, but this must be outside of any enclosed workplace.

Should employers have a policy?

Yes. Employers should have a clear smoking policy, setting out when and where they can smoke.

One approach is to state that smoking is only permitted during designated break times and another approach is to lay down that employees should keep smoking breaks to a minimum and should be aware of the amount of time they spend on smoking breaks over the course of the day.

Your policy should also cover the use of e-cigarettes and personal vaporisers.

Should employers help employee quit smoking?

It’s a well-known fact that smoking can cause long-term ill-health, which can lead to prolonged absences from work. While the employee is sick, employers may need to allocate their work within the team. They may also consider hiring a temporary worker. If you do need to hire someone externally, you will need to spend valuable money and time on recruitment and training to get the worker up to speed.

Plus, your organisation may be bleeding productivity as in some cases smokers step out numerous times a day to smoke.

How can employers support their employees?

Ultimately, it is up to the employee to decide what is best for them, but there are things employers can do to show their support for employees who are trying to quit:

  • Adopt a wellbeing strategy in place in your organisation, which includes smoking.
  • Have open and positive discussions about health and well-being.
  • Carry out awareness campaigns and workshops – ask your local charity to come in and give a talk for example.
  • Provide useful information about where they can access services that help them with their smoking.
  • Allow them to attend workshops or services during working time if reasonable to do so.

For more advice, contact your Employment Law Adviser who can offer you support.

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James Tamm

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