HR Question of the Week


A client has recently taken on a member of staff who has asked whether he can use an e-cigarette in the office. She’s never had this situation before and we’ve been discussing whether she should allow it or not. Are there any laws on the use of e-cigarettes at work?



The smoking ban, introduced back in July 2007, made it illegal for people to smoke a cigarette indoors, including in indoor workplaces. Following the ban, many employers introduced smoking policies which laid out their company’s rules on smoking.

Electronic cigarettes, e-cigarettes or “vaping” has seen a substantial increase in their use over the past few years. E-cigarettes are not covered by the smoking ban. As they are not classed as cigarettes, employers may find themselves struggling to apply their current smoking policies as e-cigarettes are unlikely to be explicitly covered by these.

Your client can allow the member of staff to “vape” at work as this does not break the smoking ban, however, there are other considerations to take in to account. E-cigarettes are becoming more realistic looking so other employees or customers may think that real cigarettes are being smoked. Electronic cigarettes also emit a vapour, of which the long term effects are not currently known, which other staff may find an annoyance or may exacerbate other medical conditions, such as asthma. Being more lenient with e-cigarettes users, such as allowing them to take extra breaks, could result in your client facing concerns from disgruntled smoking employees who are not offered these concessions.

If you client chooses to prohibit the employee using their e-cigarette at work, they need to ensure the whole workforce is informed of this. Where they do have an existing policy on smoking, your client can include a paragraph about e-cigarettes or include these in the current text.

Where there isn’t an existing policy, your client can consider introducing one as this is a useful way of communicating rules to the whole workforce; although this is the first employee to raise using an e-cigarette, they are unlikely to be the last. A policy can also be used to set out issues for e-cigarette users such as smoking areas, smoking breaks and the possible consequences if the employee does not follow the policy.

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