business woman smokes on break

Granting additional annual leave to staff as an incentive to reduce workplace smoke breaks has strong potential to backfire.

A UK recruitment agency recently rewarded employees with an extra four days holiday per year for not smoking at work.

They want to compensate staff who do not smoke, rather than penalise those who do.

However, this move is not without risk for employers.

On the face of it, it seems like a great initiative and in terms of promoting health and wellbeing in the workplace it may well be.

man with beard vaping

However, it is important that employers treat every employee equally and in this respect an initiative like this may cause problems down the line.

Setting employment law aside, anything that can be perceived by staff as being biased will cause disgruntlement and resentment within teams.

While it is presumed that an initiative like this would be welcomed by non-smokers, there are no certainties.

For example, there may be employees who take smoke breaks but whose productivity is much higher than some non-smokers – how will they react?

break at work

There may be cases where smokers become non-smokers but then revert to smoking – how easy will it be to remove their additional annual leave entitlements?

There are many other issues that may arise when pitting staff against each other and these could potentially lead to employees raising grievances with their employers.


HR Team co-director Martina McAuley offers the following advice to minimise the risk of problems arising over the handling of smoke breaks at work.

“The real issue according to this case surrounds breaks at work.

“We would advise that there should be no misalignment in breaks policy and that the policy is clear and fair for all employees.

“If staff members smoke at work, then it should be done within the allocated break entitlement included in the policy.

“The details of the breaks policy, as with all company procedures, should be clearly communicated,” she adds.