Smoking in the Workplace – Guide to Laws, Penalties & Policies

Since July 1 2007, it has been illegal to smoke in the workplace in England, as part of new government legislation which was passed in the Health Act 2006. The ban applies to all workplaces and public places, public transport, work vehicles, restaurants, pubs, bars, cafes, shopping centres and offices.

Smoking is prohibited in the workplace in public areas that are enclosed. This can include whole enclosed and substantially enclosed areas. Our guide looks at the law around smoking in the workplace, and health and safety considerations for all workers.

We also examine what rights smokers have at work, and the types of restrictions employers can place on smoking.


Is Smoking Completely Prohibited in Workplaces?

Smoking is prohibited in the workplace in public areas that are enclosed. This can include whole enclosed and substantially enclosed areas.

For example, smoking in public bars is prohibited. However, there may be outdoor areas such as partially enclosed outdoor balconies or gardens where smoking is permitted.

In the case of private businesses, the decision to permit smoking in partially enclosed outdoor areas will be at discretion of the employer.


What Other Smoking Rules can Employers Implement?

It is becoming more common for employers to place restrictions on employees who do smoke.

Some major businesses will not allow employees to smoke when they are wearing a business uniform. This also includes after or before work hours if employees are in uniform.

Employers can also stipulate how far away from business premises employees must be before they can smoke. Employees have been disciplined and dismissed for breaking these rules.


Can Employers Refuse to Hire Smokers?

It is not against the law for employers to refuse to hire smokers. Those who smoke may feel this is a discriminatory practise, but this is not the case.

Even if the employee claims they will not smoke during work hours the employer can still refuse to hire them.

One employee in the UK was dismissed 15 minutes after being hired after employers found out that she smoked. Employers are perfectly within their rights not to hire smokers.


Are Business Vehicles Included in the Smoking Ban?

Smoking is also prohibited on public transport, taxis and business vehicles. Many employers have laid down rules that include no smoking in business vans outside of working hours.

British Telecom rules say that their employees are banned from smoking in any vehicle bearing the BT logo.


What Happens if an Employee is Caught Smoking at Work?

There are different steps an employer can take if an employee is caught smoking at work. The first step could simply be a reminder that they are breaking the law.

The second step could be a disciplinary procedure such as a warning with the offence noted in the employee’s file. The employer could be fined if they allow anyone to smoke on smoke free business premises.

There have been cases where employers have dismissed people who have smoked on business premises, and broken the smoking ban.


Smoke Free Workplaces – Health & Safety

It is a required Duty of Care for Employers to ensure workplaces are smoke free.

Workplaces must display ‘no smoking’ signs in all premises, and within company vehicles. They must take reasonable steps to ensure that all of their staff, customers, members, and visitors are aware that both premises and company vehicles are required to be smoke free.

The ban on smoking at work should be enforced should anybody break the law.


No Smoking Signs in the Workplace

There are strict rules with regard to the types of no smoking signs that must be displayed in the workplace. Signs must be at least the same size as an A5 sheet of paper.

No smoking signs must be displayed in a prominent position at every public entrance to the premises. The sign must also feature the international no-smoking symbol. It is a graphic depiction of a single burning cigarette enclosed within a red circle of a minimum of 70mm in diameter with a red bar across it.

The sign must contain the following exact words which can be easily read, “”No smoking. It is against the law to smoke on these premises”.”

Smaller signs are available for vehicles and, for example, in the case of smaller shops within a larger shopping complex, although in these cases, the circle-shaped no-smoking symbol must still have a diameter of at least 70mm.

No smoking signage is covered by the same strict laws as any health and safety signs in the workplace. It’s important that all warnings are displayed properly.


Employer Smoking Policy

It can be beneficial to produce a written policy document which you can give to your employees outlining the rules around smoking at work.

A smoking policy should be simple, concise and easy to understand with no room for misinterpretation. The document should be issued to all members of staff and to new employees.

The policy should draw reference to the appropriate legislation and explain the reasons for the policy. The document should acknowledge the right of employees to work in a Smoke-free Environment. This applies to workers at all levels as well as to customers and any visitors.

A smoking policy should show which areas are ‘non smoking.’ If smokers can gather within an area outdoors, it should also state where that is.

On this point, there is no obligation to provide smokers with any area outside in which they can smoke. There is also no obligation to provide any kind of smoking shelter or facility for this purpose.

The smoking policy document might include ways in which the company is prepared to assist smokers in giving up smoking. However, they do not have to provide that service.

Furthermore, the document should state how the company will deal with anyone caught smoking in the workplace.


Penalties For Smoking in the Workplace

The Health Act of 2006 states the penalties for breaching the law if efforts to encourage compliance have failed. They are:

  • Smoking in a smoke-free premises or vehicle: a fixed penalty notice of £50 (discounted to £30 if paid within 15 days from the issue of a notice) or a fine by a court not exceeding level 1 on the standard scale (up to £200)
  • Failure to display no smoking signs in smoke-free premises and vehicles as required by the new law: a fixed penalty notice of £200 (discounted to £150 if paid within 15 days from the issue of a notice) or a fine by the court not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale (up to £1000)
  • Failing to prevent smoking in a smoke-free premises or vehicle: a fine by a court not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale (up to £2500)

England was the last country in the UK to introduce this legislation following similar laws which have were also introduced in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

6 thoughts on “Smoking in the Workplace – Guide to Laws, Penalties & Policies

  1. gothic says:

    I work in a care home as a resedential care officer in mental health working in a house within the community – the office / sleep in room is situated above the bedroom of a very heavy smoker ! as a result the smoke filters up through the floorboards causing the office/sleep in area to smell like an ashtray ! its always worse first thing on a morning ! we have mentioned this to the management but have been told that it is against the human rights of the person not to let him smoke in his room ! It would appear that us as staff have no human rights in not wanting to breathe in his second hand smoke ! As this is a workplace should this person be allowed to smoke in his room ? we also have another smoker in the house who is not allowed to smoke in her room ? what is the difference ????

  2. bobby says:

    I work in a Care Home looking after Mentally Ill people & part of my job is escorting patients into the Smoking area for a Cigarette. I am expected to stay within arms length of the Patient throughout because of their vulnerability. Some nights they could smoke upwards of 12 to 20 Cigarettes. I am a non smoker & never smoked myself & I feel that I shouldn’t be expected to put my health at risk in this situation. I also feel that if I complain I would be treated as a troublemaker & possibly forced out of my job.

  3. Graville says:

    Ive been working in a small engineering company for 7months,ther is only 8 of us employed there And 4 of them smoke openly on the shop floor,of which i despise. Two of them are the owners so I cant say anything because they’ll just finish me . Is there anything i can do to stop this ?

  4. percyparso says:

    If i see an employee or other person smoking within enclosed premises can i ask them to leave the premises or do i have to go down the line of verbal warnings and written warnings before dismissal

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