HR · 19 November 2018

Can I ban my staff from smoking on their break at work?

smoking ban
When constructing a policy, you should outline exactly why you want to prevent employees from smoking on their breaks

After a local authority banned its employees from smoking during working hours Kate Palmer, associate director of advisory at Peninsula, explains what employers need to know about workplace smoking bans.

Last week, Dundee City Council announced a ban on staff smoking or vaping during working hours. The decision has had mixed reviews with some welcoming the ban as a way to protect the health of staff whilst others viewing it as an attack on people who smoke.

Smoking at work can be a contentious issue at times and whilst an indoor smoking ban has been in place since July 2007, some employers may look to go a step further and impose a ban on staff smoking outside during their designated break time.

Generally speaking, as an employer you can implement rules you find suitable for your industry or organisation, including smoking, by way of a well-constructed workplace policy. However, when challenged you may have to show that any “smoke-free” policy is reasonable.

Why do you want to impose a ban?

When constructing a policy, you should outline exactly why you want to prevent employees from smoking on their breaks. This might be for the benefit of the company’s image, particularly if the employee works in a customer facing role. Either way, it is important to be able to rely on a valid reason for any ban, which is not simply your own personal dislike of the practice.

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Employees’ break time is considered to be their free time, therefore any attempts to control their behaviour during this time is unlikely to be well received and could have a detrimental impact on morale. For that reason, you should ask yourself why you want to ban smoking during break times and if this is really necessary.

For example, if you are concerned that staff smoking outside the building creates a negative image for your business, you could simply choose to ban smoking on company premises, allowing staff to smoke just a few yards away, or introduce a secluded smoking shelter for employees to use, away from public viewing.

How will you identify employees?

It is also worth considering how identifiable employees are when smoking outside your place of work. Whilst those in company uniform may be easy to spot, those without a uniform are unlikely to draw as much attention and cause far less damage to the company’s reputation as a result. 

If you want to ban smoking due to health concerns you should consider that although the act of smoking has scientifically been proven to be bad for an individual’s health, it is possible for employees to smoke and still lead a healthy life.

As a result, this reason is perhaps most likely to be objected to by employees as being unreasonable and you should consider other measures, such as free fruit and subsidised gym subscriptions, that aren’t as intrusive and are less likely to place a constraint on the employee.

Ultimately as an employer, you have the scope to ban employees from smoking during their breaks. However, for this to be a success it is important to ensure any ban can be considered reasonable and proportionate for your particular organisation.

 Kate Palmer is associate director of advisory at Peninsula

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Kate Palmer CIPD is the head of advisory at law firm Peninsula and is a member of its senior leadership team. She joined in 2009 having held a senior HR manager's role in another large company. With a specialist background in facilities management in the NHS, Kate offers a wealth of employment law experience. She's an expert negotiator - one notable case was with the NHS's trade unions over terms and conditions in the Agenda for Change pay system.