Working in Germany: Can the boss forbid smoking?

Smoking is an extremely strong and often troublesome habit, and it can be very difficult for nicotine-addicted employees to go without a cigarette until their lunch break. Therefore, many employers allow their employees to take short cigarette breaks during the working day – in addition to their regular legal breaks. However, not all businesses in Germany are so welcoming to smokers. Do they have the right to do so? Are smokers entitled to additional breaks in Germany besides basic breaks?

Can the boss forbid smoking breaks in Germany?

Yes, employees can do whatever they want during their official breaks – including smoking. However, as a rule there are no legal regulations for extra smoking breaks. Therefore, employees must follow the rules set by their employer and the company.

How long should cigarette breaks be?

If the breaks are longer than the legal lunch break, the working day should be extended by the total time spent on breaks so that non-smokers are not disadvantaged. In practice, however, many employees do not include smoking breaks in their break totals and do not “work off” the time spent smoking.

Can an employer in Germany fire an employee for smoking?

In theory, yes. If an employee violates the company’s smoking regulations, he/she can receive a warning and in the worst case, even termination. This can happen, for example, if an employee smokes in the office, although there is a general ban on smoking throughout the company. Your supervisor may also ask you to stop smoking.

However, people who work off the time spent on smoking breaks can also get into trouble. If an employer does not agree to additional breaks (even if worked off), it can terminate its employee’s employment.

Can my employer prohibit my employees from smoking?

No. Your manager may emphasize that smoking is unhealthy and can cause a number of serious diseases, and encourage his or her employees to quit. However, this is an individual and personal matter for the employee, as long as they do not disturb their co-workers.

What rights do non-smokers have in Germany?

Every company should provide effective protection for non-smokers and take the necessary measures in this regard. This is laid down in the Workplace Ordinance. Therefore, there is a smoking ban in almost every company. Even if all but one employee is a smoker, protecting that one non-smoker may require a ban on smoking on the premises – and force smokers to go outside.

Alternatively, employers can create special rooms in the company where smoking is allowed. The works council should have a say in these decisions.


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