Advice on Smoking Breaks

It is estimated that smoking breaks that are extra breaks for staff during the working day or shift cost the country £8.4 billion in lost productivity. Take for example a member for your staff taking 6 smoke breaks per day at 10 minutes per break – that it 1 hour per day. This adds up to 12½% of salary and if your company average salary is say £20k; smoking breaks cost £2,500 per member of staff. Basically, by allowing this practice companies are allowing paid breaks to some of staff while leaving others out.

It became illegal to smoke in the workplace in 2006 in Scotland and the following year in the rest of the UK. Now smoking breaks are very visible and employers quite rightly ask questions about how much time was being spent away from actual work.

So not only is smoking damaging people’s health but also the health of the company or business.

The Working Time Regulations stipulate that staff are entitled to one unpaid 20-minute break during a working day of longer than six hours.

While many argue that a smoking break provides for an opportunity to refresh and reflect, the time spent smoking cancels out the benefits. Many small companies are affected disproportionately.

However some employers ask smokers to clock in and out for smoking breaks and the make up the time. This is often welcomed by non- smokers who argue it is unfair for them to carry on working such as answering the phone etc., when their colleague is having smoking breaks every day. Creating a two-tier workforce with different break arrangements is divisive and can lead to grievances being submitted from members of staff who feel particularly upset about the issue.

If you give smokers extra breaks during their paid working hours in order to indulge in smoking, it is not surprising that non-smokers are unhappy about it. Your leniency towards staff that have a nicotine addiction could land you a staff morale issue.

One answer is to have set breaks for everyone, say 15 minutes in the morning and afternoon whether for smoking or personal. Common sense is the best approach to smoking breaks giving smokers the same number of breaks as you would others say when they make a cup of tea or have a 10-minute chat. It’s commonly thought that stepping away from your workstation for a short time can be good especially where the job is a pressurised one.

Some employers have gone further in order to foster a harmonious working environment, and they treat all staff equally to avoid giving them something to complain about. This has sometimes meant reducing the working hours for those members of staff who smoke whilst others remain on the full working hours.

The legal position is that there is no statutory entitlement to a smoking break, but you may have inadvertently created a practice where smokers feel they are entitled to the break because it has been part of their day for years and years. To counter this, give notice of your intention to change things say after 3 months. You may lose the smokers who may look for another job – something to consider.

Alternatively, you could ask staff who take time during the day for a smoking breaks make the time up at lunch time or at the end of the day later in the day.

Remember 20% of people still smoke and this higher in certain industries.


1.   Assess if you have a problem. Is it affecting your company image or productivity, staff relations etc.
2.   Ask your managers and staff if they feel rules should be laid down
3.   Put forward a proposal and consult with staff
4.   Give staff 3 months notice of the change
5.   Add the arrangements to your employment contracts and issue the changes to your existing staff