Smokers in the workplace – employer responsibilities

Smokers in the workplace - employer responsibilities - Centric HR

With National No Smoking Day taking place on 8 March 2023, it served as a useful reminder of the debate that often takes place around smoking in the workplace, and the rules around what is allowed and what an employer’s responsibilities are.

The World Health Organisation reports that tobacco kills up to half of its users, with more than 8 million people dying each year. More than 7 million of those deaths are the result of direct tobacco use, while approximately 1.2 million deaths are linked to exposure to second-hand smoke.

While smoking is in terminal decline amongst adults in the UK, it remains the nation’s biggest killer, and there is still much work to do to raise awareness.

In the UK, smoking is not allowed in any enclosed workplace, and workers can be fined up to £200 if found to be in breach of this. Businesses can also incur hefty fines of up to £2500 if they do not stop people from smoking in the workplace, or up to £1000 if they do not display ‘no smoking’ signs. Businesses can also be reported to their local authority for failing to meet their legal requirements in respect of smoking in the workplace, and therefore failing to reduce the risk to the health and safety of their employees from second-hand smoking.

In terms of employer responsibilities, the minimum that businesses that should be doing to comply with the law is as follows: –

  • display ‘no smoking’ signs in all workplaces and vehicles – consider publishing these in more than one language if English is not typically the first language of those reading the signs
  • ensure people do not smoke in enclosed work premises or shared vehicles (a worker may smoke in a company car that only they use but only if their employer agrees)
  • ensure staff go outside to smoke – staff-smoking rooms are prohibited.


In addition to this, the HSE recommends that employers should have a specific policy on smoking in the workplace and such policies should prioritise the needs of non-smokers who do not wish to breathe tobacco smoke. Employers are advised to consult their employees and their representatives on the appropriate smoking policy to suit their particular workplace, although it must meet the requirements of the legal ban on smoking in enclosed spaces.

Several debates are ongoing currently regarding banning smoking in the workplace, to include outdoor smoking. Employers are looking to cut costs related to time off due to health issues, healthcare and insurance costs, as well as productivity losses.

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It is worth noting that there is no specific right that requires employers to allow their staff to take a smoking break as and when they choose. The law sets out certain rules around break times and duration of breaks, but it is down to employees to decide, within reason, how to spend their breaks. Therefore, employees can smoke during their break times.

In terms of granting additional breaks for smokers, this is now less common as most employers look to treat all staff equally when it comes to break times and not differentiate between smokers and non-smokers. It is often a cause for debate, as some feel that allowing people to go for smoking breaks means a possible loss of productivity due to time spent not working. Others state that not allowing smoking breaks can reduce morale and can also impact productivity, as smokers can lose their attention span, become tired, and become agitated without nicotine.

If you require any advice or support in implementing a smoking policy for your workplace, please do get in touch.



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Sandra Berns

Centric HR was founded by Sandra Berns, a confident and versatile Human Resources and Organisational Development Practitioner with 25 years demonstrable experience and a Fellow of the CIPD. Sandra has both Operational and Strategic HR expertise across Public and Private sectors and has assisted senior teams in meeting challenging workforce objectives in many corporate environments.