Is Vaping in the Workplace Illegal in the UK?
Vaping in recent years has grown exponentially in the UK, increasing to roughly four million of the UK adult population in 2023, who see e-cigarettes as a useful tool to quit smoking cigarettes.
Because we spend so much of our daily life at work, it’s natural that some of that time needs to be attributed to keeping up nicotine habits while you drop the levels gradually.
But what are the rules for vaping in the workplace? Is it banned as smoking is in public places, or are there different laws in place?
Any business must tread a careful line to ensure that all employees and people who visit are treated fairly and that their wishes and any health concerns are respected regarding not just cigarettes but vapes too. This guide explains all potential policies and what to do as a business if any rules are broken.
What is the Law for Vaping in the Workplace?
To understand why vaping is legally permitted, it’s first important to recognise smoking laws in the workplace. Despite popular belief, the same rules do not apply to vaping as they do to smoking in public spaces.
While any person who smokes at work could receive a fine of up to £200, the same cannot be said of e-cigarettes.
This is because the decision of whether vaping is allowed in a workplace is at the employer's discretion.
It is the obligation of the employer to ensure that nobody smokes cigarettes on the premises following the 2006 Health Act. Highlighting the correct no-smoking signs in place and providing designated smoking areas.
But with vaping, it’s different because they do not create combustible tobacco or dangerous carcinogens in the air.
Therefore, it’s up to the employees to set their own policies and make all employees and visitors aware of these rules, following Public Health England guidance.
To Vape or Not to Vape – What Should the Employer Do?
There are tons of considerations to make as a business owner. It’s a humanitarian decision as well as a brand call. Do you side with your employees who do not want vape particles in air circulation, who may have concerns about their health around anyone vaping? Studies show there is very little risk from passive vapour. However, it's still important to be mindful of others who do not vape.
But then you have to also decide where you stand as an employer with smokers, former smokers and those who like to vape. Do you treat vapers the same as you would smokers, despite the laws dividing the two in public spaces?
The truth is that you will always divide opinions, upsetting someone you hire within the business or a client who visits. Vaping is considered much less harmful than smoking. But you need to think about how society perceives both as well.
For instance, on public transport, although vaping is technically not illegal, it’s still banned on most buses and trains in the UK.
So, as a business owner, it’s important to make the right call from a legal perspective but also on a personal level. To consider the welfare of all who visit the place of work.
If you allow vaping in the workplace, how will smokers feel? Should both smokers and vapers get equal breaks to get the nicotine they need?
What kind of image do you want to show as a brand? All of these questions if not approached carefully, can lead to legal ramifications.
Vaping is not illegal in any place, but there does need to be fair boundaries, as well as clear clarification of those rules for both smokers and vapers.
Is Vaping Gross Misconduct for an Employee at Work?
This all depends on the policies set out by the business. As stated above, vaping is not illegal, so there can be no lawful punishment for this act.
But within the parameters of the business, or within a company vehicle, if the rules set by the company state that vaping is not permitted, and it is carried out by an employee, this is a technical breach of contract.
When an employee acts or behaves inappropriately, breaking any rules or guidelines set out by a business for vaping, this is classed as misconduct.
The result of this should be some form of disciplinary action involving an HR team, with the first protocol being a written warning.
If after two or three meetings and/or warnings, your employee continues to break the rules, if the procedure is followed fairly and correctly, you do have rights as an employer to act with an instant dismissal following gross misconduct, which is classed as ‘gross negligence or serious insubordination’.
To summarise, all of these procedures and rules should be followed with fairness, respect and understanding in mind, for all parties involved, from the top of the business to the employees.
Vaping is not breaking any UK government laws and whether an individual can vape on the business premises lies with the discretion of that business entirely.