While many companies allow staff to take work breaks, it’s often a divisive issue in the workplace – between those who smoke and those who don’t. A recent survey found that 53% of UK workers believe that smoking or vaping breaks during work hours cause resentment among non-smoker colleagues. This appears to stem from the fact that non-smokers believe that smokers are given extra privileges when it comes to taking breaks in the workplace.
Legal background on smoking and work breaks
Under the law, employers aren’t legally obliged to give smokers special treatment when it comes to work breaks, but they are required to offer rest breaks to all employees. If an employee works more than six hours per day, then they’re entitled to a 20-minute rest break during that day. Additional breaks may be offered depending on the worker’s contract. However, it’s important to point out that employers aren’t obliged to pay workers for this break.
Under the current arrangements, smoking isn’t allowed within business premises (fines of up to £200 can be levied), but a designated smoking zone can be provided for workers, as long as that area complies with legal requirements.
Vaping currently falls outside current legal legislation, so here it’s down to employers to develop their own policies on e-cigarettes and vaping at work. However, if you work as a driver, you can be prosecuted for vaping behind the wheel and incur penalties of up to nine penalty points and a potential fine of £2,500.
Companies must provide clear policies on work breaks
If there isn’t a clear smoking breaks policy, then problems will arise if non-smokers feel that smokers are getting too many breaks to enjoy their habit. This can further acerbated when smokers form cliques and exclude non-smokers from their conversations.
Even when there is a smoking breaks policy, there can still be disruption as non-smokers feel they are being treated unfairly. In order to tackle these issues, some companies are setting limits on how much time workers can devote to smoke breaks, but perhaps the best solution is to establish very clear rules and procedures when it comes to rest periods overall, including where, when and how many breaks are allowed in the workplace. It’s important to make sure these rules are applied equally to smokers and non-smokers, as any ambiguity could inevitably lead to resentment.
Breaks have benefits
However, there could be another more beneficial approach. Given today’s ‘always-on’ work culture whereby employees often need to answer email and perform other tasks when they’re not at work, employers could encourage staff to simply take breaks whenever they feel they need them. It’s been proven that regular breaks are good both in terms of productivity and morale. More than half of workers who don’t take regular breaks believe, that, if they did, their overall wellbeing and productivity would improve.
Regardless, the number of people who are active smokers has been in decline for some time. With 60% of current smokers wanting to quit, we may not be too far away from the day when smoking anywhere becomes a thing of the past.
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