Following the government's recent announcement that smoking will be banned in all public places in England including business premises on 1 July 2007, law firm DWF said companies should develop ahead of the rules being introduced a policy which has the support of all employees.
"While there is no automatic right to a smoke break, some people will still want to smoke during working hours," Stephen Robinson, associate with DWF. "Employers must balance their wishes with those of non-smokers who often believe smokers enjoy more rest breaks."
Robinson said the policy should state that it has been developed following consultation with staff to help provide a safe and healthy workplace and that it applies to all employees and visitors including contractors.
It should also outline what arrangements have been put in place for smokers such as 'smoking shelters' outside the premises but make it clear that smoking breaks are not an automatic right and leaving butts is unacceptable.
In addition, managers should be given guidance on how to handle smoking in the workplace and what disciplinary action may be taken. DWF also advised employers to display no smoking signs and consider providing support to smokers who want to give up.
"Employers who do not enforce the ban may not only face fines, but also employment tribunal claims and in the long term even personal injury actions," Robinson added.
"Having a clear policy which is communicated to staff and enforced by the employer should minimise these risks."
A smoking ban will be introduced in Wales and Northern Ireland in April 2007. Similar rules already exist in Scotland.