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HR tip: Smoke breaks and unfairness on non-smokers


These questions are being answered by Learn HR, a market leader in the provision of HR and payroll training and nationally-recognised professional qualifications.


"Since the ban on smoking indoors, we insist that anyone wishing to smoke must do so outside in the yard. Several smokers therefore disappear into the yard now and again for a smoke. Non-smokers are now complaining that they have more rest breaks. What should we do?"

HR tip:

I suggest that you make arrangements such that, if they want to smoke during work hours, they are allowed to have, say, four 15-minute extra breaks during the day but have to work for an extra hour at the end of the day. I am surprised, though, that you can afford to let them disappear into the yard. A complete ban on smoking during work hours would seem to be the ideal solution.

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2 Responses

  1. Not cold turkey!
    I disagree that asking smokers not to smoke for up to 3.5 hours (as presumably they are allowed to smoke during their lunch break) is the same as forcing them to “go cold turkey”. Smokers regularly need to abstain from smoking for this kind of length of time when they take a flight, see a film at the cinema or go to a large shopping mall. In fact, they can go for 7 hours or more without a cigarette when they are sleeping!

  2. Screen breaks
    This might not be applicable in this instance, but it is important to remember that employers should actively encourage their employees to take regular screen breaks. The HSE recommend short, frequent breaks, say somewhere between 5-10 minutes of every hour up to 20 minutes in 2 hours. Non smokers should take these breaks, as should smokers. Lest we not forget that taking regular breaks from what we do each day keeps us motivated and alert. Your non smokers should take this time to perhaps have a short refreshing walk or get a glass of water, while smokers can go outside and smoke.
    Without wanting to open huge debate, smoking is an addiction – whether you like it or not, people who smoke need to do so on a regular basis. Even the NHS will advise a smoker who wants to quit not to go cold turkey; you will be effectively asking your employees to do this every working day – this will have consequences.

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