Woman with cigarette

Smoking in the workplace

What are the laws on smoking in the workplace?

Public health laws in the UK state that enclosed or substantially enclosed workplaces and public places must be smoke free.

This means that employers have legal responsibilities to prevent people from smoking in relevant premises at work, as well as in certain workplace vehicles.

Employers are required by law to:

  • display no-smoking signs in workplaces and work vehicles;
  • take reasonable steps to make sure that staff, customers, members and visitors are aware that they may not smoke in the premises or in work vehicles;
  • make sure that no one smokes on the premises or in vehicles.

Smoking is defined as being in possession of a lit substance such as tobacco or any other substance that can be smoked. This includes any type of cigarette, pipe, cigar or water pipe used to smoke tobacco.

Only a few premises are exempt from the this law and all exemptions are subject to strict conditions.

The smoking ban applies to enclosed or substantially enclosed workplaces where more than one person works, regardless of whether they are paid or voluntary, or whether they work at the same or different times or only intermittently.

Do employers have to give smokers a place to smoke?

According to the Health and Safety Executive, employers should consult their employees and their representatives on the appropriate smoking policy to suit their particular workplace, though this has to meet the requirements of the legal ban,

UNISON believes that a smoke-free policy should aim to protect all staff from the harmful effects of second-hand tobacco smoke, comply with the law and support workers that wish to give up, but also make provision for those unable or unwilling to give up.

The term “enclosed or substantially enclosed” refers to a place that has a ceiling or roof, with walls (including doors and windows) around at least half the perimeter.

What about workers not covered by the ban?

Employers have a duty not to expose their workers to hazards, and must therefore take appropriate steps to prevent or minimise any risks.

UNISON members working in someone else’s home may be exposed to second-hand smoke. To deal with this risk, many employers and health promotion organisations now ask service users/clients not to smoke during or at least one hour before any visit, and to allow the worker to ventilate the rooms they work in by opening windows. Employers can further improve the situation by ensuring that any member of staff does not have to visit one smoker after another

In other residential settings, where, for example, a patient is permitted to smoke within their bedroom, then any care can be administered elsewhere in a smoke-free area, or alternative provision should be made for the patients to smoke elsewhere.  Any cleaning of the rooms should be timed to allow sufficient ventilation first.

Special consideration should be given to workers who may be at special risk, such as pregnant women, or those suffering from asthma or other respiratory diseases, or cardiovascular (heart or blood vessel) diseases including a stroke.

How can your employer help you stop smoking?

There are many things an employer can do to encourage employees to give up smoking. Talk to your UNISON rep about whether your employer can offer any of the following:

  • advice on giving up smoking from a doctor or health professional;
  • self-help guides for giving up smoking;
  • free or subsidised nicotine replacement therapy such as gum or patches;
  • programmes for giving up smoking (such as group meetings run by professionals);
  • paid time off to attend relevant courses.

Next steps for UNISON reps

Regarding smoking in the workplace, you could take the following action:

  • check that your employer is following the law;
  • make sure you are consulted on the workplace smoking policy, or negotiate for a policy to be created if no policy exists;
  • make sure that the smoking policy is fair and workable.

In terms of workplace health and welfare provision, you may want to look into how much your employer is ensuring that:

  • workers are positively encouraged to quit smoking;
  • people who do not quit smoking are not victimised or trated unfairly;
  • provision is made for members not covered by the ban such as those who work in someone else’s home.
Key facts
  • Employers must, by law, prevent people from smoking at work if within an enclosed or substantially enclosed space or in certain vehicles. Employers should consult their employees and their UNISON representatives on the appropriate smoking policy to suit their particular workplace.
  • In 1998 the government’s independent scientific committee on tobacco and health reported that second-hand smoke is a cause of lung cancer.
  • Before the workplace smoking bans, UNISON had taken legal action on behalf of members who have had their health permanently damaged by exposure to passive smoke at work.


Smoking in the workplace