Cigarette breaks often cause unnecessary disputes within the workplace with many employees trying to capitalise on as many breaks as possible to have a quick cigarette, leaving non-smokers feeling frustrated at not having as many breaks.

ACAS reported that 30% of smokers spent over an hour having a cigarette break every day, with some smoking up to 20 cigarettes in working time.

So how can a business manage this to get the most out of their staff and avoid unnecessary time wasting from both smokers and non-smokers?

Legal Entitlements

When looking at the Working Time Regulations 1998, employees are entitled to rest breaks throughout the course of the working day, these include

  • 20 minutes when an employee has worked over 6 hours
  • 11 consecutive hours off per day (or between shifts)
  • 1 day off every 7 days
  • A maximum working week of 48 hours

Employers have a responsibility to ensure that employees are having adequate rest breaks throughout the course of the day, which is governed not only by the Working Time Regulations 1998 but, at times, the Health and Safety Executive too.

However, an employee has no legal entitlement to a specific cigarette break.

Managing Relationships

Resentment between smokers and non-smokers is often the biggest cause for concern when dealing with cigarette breaks. If employers are allowing smokers to take additional breaks to have cigarettes then this will leave non-smokers feeling like they are doing more work.

Treating all employees consistently will stop the creation of different groups within a work place, helping all employees work as a team.

Be aware of any formal grievances that may be raised by employees who are unhappy with unfair treatment. If a formal grievance is not dealt with sufficiently this could lead to further resentment, and worse, considered breach of contract at an employment tribunal.

Clear Policies

While it is easy to point out smokers who are having additional breaks (due to them having to go outside), many pro smokers argue that non-smokers take more ‘less visible’ breaks within the office that are not managed, putting smokers at a disadvantage.

Having a clear rest breaks policy that everyone must abide by can help any feelings of resentment subside.

Compromise

Where possible, if an employer can offer flexibility with their rest breaks this may help.

If an employee is entitled to an hours dinner break, the employer could offer the employee to split this into 45 minutes dinner break and an additional 15 minute break. This flexibility could help smokers and non-smokers alike.

Regular breaks have been proven time and time again to help boost productivity within a workforce. Breaks away from the workstation (especially the computer screen) helps boost concentration and even have a positive impact on team morale, giving employees the opportunity to socialise.

However, this would need to be managed very carefully to avoid breaks being stretched out by either smokers or non-smokers.

Conclusion

Overall, there are advantages to having regular breaks away from work in addition to having a clear rest breaks policy. Managing regular breaks should help to reduce conflicts arising between smokers and non-smokers.

If everyone is entitled to the same breaks no one will feel aggrieved by what other staff members are doing, and it is then up to the employees what they do with their time while they are on break.

Maintaining this policy and managing staff who take additional breaks (for whatever reason) will help show any staff considering taking additional breaks that this will not be tolerated.

If you have any concerns with employees taking too many breaks then contact one of our employment law consultants for more advice.