Can your employer stop you from taking a cigarette break during work hours? The answer may surprise you

MANY workers look forward to their short tea breaks as a much-needed time to recuperate before getting back to their daily tasks.

But if you’re smoker, stepping away from your desk to have a quick fag might irritate both your boss and your colleagues.

 Smoking is forbidden within workplace premises

Getty – Contributor

Smoking is forbidden within workplace premises

The number of smokers in England has declined in the UK over the past few years.

In 2016, almost 16 per cent of adults smoked which equates to around 7.6 million of the population, according to the latest data from the Office for National Statistics.

So if you do smoke, what are your rights at work and can your boss prevent you from having a cigarette break?

Am I entitled to a smoking break?

Not really. An employee has legally no right to a break specifically for the purpose of smoking – unless your contract specifically states it.

But there is still some good news for smokers.

 Unless a worker’s employment contract says so, they don’t have the right to take a smoke break at anytime outside of their alloted break time.

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Unless a worker’s employment contract says so, they don’t have the right to take a smoke break at anytime outside of their alloted break time.

According to the law, an employee who works more than six hours per day has the right to a so-called “rest break” of at least 20 minutes away from their desk or workstation.

It doesn’t count as a rest break if your boss tells you to go back to work before the break is finished – so this might be the perfect time to have that cigarette.

It’s worth remembering that your employer is not obliged to pay for these breaks – this will depend on your contract.

Rules surrounding “rest breaks” also vary for young people as well as lorry and coach drivers.

Can my employer prevent me from taking a cigarette break?

An employer cannot prevent a worker from taking their statutory rest break.

But if you tend to regularly take additional breaks – going outside to smoke every hour –  your boss could technically treat it as misconduct.

In practice, it will be really down to an employer’s discretion as to whether smokers can nip out for unofficial breaks.

If this is an issue for you, you could raise the matter with your HR department.

Can I smoke in a work vehicle?

If you’re sharing the work vehicle with a colleague – regardless of whether he or she is actually in the vehicle at the same time –  at work then you will not be allowed to smoke in it.

The breaks you can take at work

WORKERS over 18 are usually entitled to three types of break – rest breaks at work, daily rest and weekly rest.

  • Rest breaks: Workers have the right to one uninterrupted 20 minute rest break during their working day, if they work more than 6 hours a day. This could be a tea or lunch break.
  • Daily rest: Workers have the right to 11 hours rest between working days. For most people this will be the overnight between two work days. For example, if they finish work at 8pm, they shouldn’t start work again until 7am the next day.
  • Weekly rest: A whole day or two days when you don’t come into work. For most of us, this is the weekend.

What about smoking areas and shelters?

There is no requirement for outdoor smoking shelters to be provided for employees.

But if your employer does provide a smoking shelter it must comply with the Smoke Free legislation.

10 years after the ban on smoking in public places came into force, campaigners say it has had one of the biggest impacts on public health in the past decade

All enclosed workplaces are required by law to be smoke free.

It is worth noting that you could be fined up to £200 for smoking in the office.

Are the rules different for electronic cigarettes

E-cigarettes and similar products are seen a tool to quit smoking, which means they aren’t covered by the same legislation.

They produce a vapour, including flavoured aromas either with or without nicotine, rather than traditional smoke.

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For now, this means employers are free to decide if they can be used in the workplace or in shared vehicles.

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