The deal with smoking breaks at work

A Japanese company recently made headlines for giving non-smokers six extra days’ holiday each year to make up for the time that coworkers spent on smoking breaks.


Would you consider doing the same for your staff?

Maybe it’s a little bit much for smaller businesses to put in place. However, smoking breaks can cause a reasonable amount of disruption and even resentment from non-smokers. This can cause issues to arise with your current company culture. So here’s what you need to know about it.

The cause of the issue

Canadians have been trail blazing control for tobacco and smoking since the late 70’s. Ottawa was the very first city to restrict people from smoking indoors for public spaces and the rest is history.  Soon after these policies were in place, many employers had to ensure that their company policies outlined rules on smoking.

But no matter the rules, some employees still sneak out of work to smoke—it could be happening at your company right now.

Even if you choose to let it slide, it’s likely their non-smoking coworkers have noticed and aren’t too pleased about it. So what does the law say about it?

No right to smoking breaks

There is no legal right to take smoking breaks, and employees are not entitled to do so. The Employment Standards Act says that after working five hours, an employee must be provided with a half-hour meal break. Any other breaks, such as coffee or smoke breaks, are given solely at the employer’s discretion.

All adult workers are entitled to a minimum rest break of thirty minutes if they work more than five hours. This break (and any additional breaks you give staff) can be for smoking, but staff are not entitled to extra time off work for it.

Set out the rules

In your company’s smoking policy, outline:

  • When smoking can take place, i.e. whether this is banned during working hours
  • Where smoking is permitted on work premises
  • The rules on smoking in company vehicles
  • The rules about smoking on third party premises
  • The penalties of breaching the rules

What about e-cigarettes?

The current smoking ban does not cover e-cigarettes. Employers can allow staff to vape e-cigarettes at work, but it’s rarely done. Some employers and employees think that vaping e-cigarettes presents a bad image and others find the water vapour clouds irritating.

Plus, treating e-cigarette smokers differently to normal smokers could cause further divide in your office.

The best option is to apply the same rules to e-cigarettes and cigarettes (and any other ways people smoke). Either update your current smoking policy to include e-cigarettes or introduce a separate policy.

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