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29th October, 2019

Smoking breaks at work: where do you stand?

It is generally well known that workers in the UK are entitled to some breaks during the working day. But what about smoking breaks? Is it fair that a smoker can nip outside whenever they want and a non-smoker can’t?

Breaks at work: the law

Firstly, let’s look at the actual law. While there is no specific law around smoking breaks, UK law states that workers must be allowed a minimum of 20 minutes break for every 6 hours they work. This is usually given in the form of an (unpaid) lunch break, which tends to be between 30-60 minutes. What you do in that lunch break is generally up to you (within reason!). 

Many companies also provide additional, shorter breaks in the morning and afternoon. This tends to be more common in an industrial setting, where a worker would clock in and out whenever they leave their work station. These shorter breaks would usually be enough time to nip to the toilet, make a brew and have a cigarette. Crucially, everyone in the workplace would be allocated the same amount of breaks throughout the day.

But what about in a less formalised setting? What is you’re constantly watching your smoker colleagues nip outside every few hours? Surely you should also be allowed the same breaks, even if you don’t smoke?Smoking breaks at wormk

Unfortunately, many workplaces don’t have official rules for this type of thing. It’s often dictated by the current manager or even by what has always happened in the past. However, taking a break is important for all workers, whether that means simply stretching your legs for 10 minutes away from your desk, or going to make a brew.

How to tackle the smoking break issue:

  • Firstly, assess how often people are actually nipping out for a cigarette. If it genuinely is too often (say, every half an hour) you need to raise this with management or HR. Find out if there is a solid policy and, crucially, what is in place for breaks for non-smokers.
  • Usually, smokers will have a set routine they follow. One break in the morning and one in the afternoon, with lunch in the middle. They will usually set their watch by it! 
  • Therefore, if you feel that you should be taking a break too, make it happen. Make sure you are also getting time away from your workstation, even if you just do a lap of the office to stretch those legs. Most businesses leave it up to the individual as to the number of breaks they take and, within reason, will be flexible.
  • If in doubt, ask the question and make sure it is clear what you are entitled to. Again, a lot of workplaces are very relaxed around staff taking time away from their desk and actively encourage it. However, if you don’t ask you may never know!

Any policies should be clearly outlined in your staff handbook. Ask for a copy if you don’t have one already and check what it says about allocated breaks. If there is nothing specific, make sure to factor a few short breaks in to your day to help you have an all-round more productive and enjoyable time at work.

  • And don’t forget, if you’re working somewhere that doesn’t offer any flexibility, maybe it’s time to move on?! To find our what other fantastic opportunities are available across Cheshire and South Manchester, get in touch!

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