work breaks: what are smokers entitled to?

Workers in the UK are split down the middle on whether non-smokers should be given extra paid holiday in lieu of the cigarette breaks they do not take.

Japanese company Piala Inc sparked debate when it gave non-smoker employees six extra paid leave days a year. The marketing company - whose staff work at a 29th floor office - made the decision because non-smokers felt they were working longer hours than their smoker colleagues.

Stubbing out.

The number of adult smokers in England is at its lowest level since records began at 17% of the population. However, even though there are fewer smokers than in the past, our survey of more than 1,000 visitors to randstad.co.uk suggested non-smokers do not want extra days’ leave. 

Randstad found more than half (55%) of respondents said non-smokers should not be given more paid leave while 45% said they should.

Smokers' rights.

The law states people who work more than six hours a day have the right to one uninterrupted 20-minute rest break. It is up to the employer whether the break is paid.

Employers can say when employees take rest breaks during work time as long as:

  • the break is taken in one go somewhere in the middle of the day (not at the beginning or end).
  • workers are allowed to spend it away from their desk or workstation (ie away from where they actually work).

It doesn’t count as a rest break if an employer says an employee should go back to work before their break is finished.

Unless a worker’s employment contract says so, they don’t have the right to:

  • take smoking breaks.
  • get paid for rest breaks.

Smoking at work.

As well as rules on smoking breaks, there are laws around lighting up in or near the workplace. Smoking isn’t allowed in any enclosed workplace, public building or on public transport in the UK and those caught doing so can be fined up to £200 or £50 in Scotland.

The rise of E-cigarettes and the lack of evidence around the harm they cause means it is up to employers whether they can be used on their premises. Businesses must display ‘no smoking’ signs and can be fined £2,500 if an employee is caught smoking where they shouldn’t. The rule also applies to work vehicles.

Poll question.

Should non-smokers be given paid leave for not taking cigarette breaks?
1011 votes in total
No (551 votes, 55%)
Yes (460 votes, 45%)

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