A teenage waitress has been warned she will be sacked unless she quits smoking.

Bethany South, 16, has been told to give up the habit for good – both during breaks from work and even in her spare time – or risk losing her job.

Her boss Julian Preston-Powers issued the warning after catching her lighting up outside Intenso Espresso Bar in Portland Road, Hove.

He said her smoking went against the policy of the café, which serves healthy, organic food.

Mr Preston-Powers, who is franchise director for the coffee shop, said: “I contacted employment lawyers and they told me I wouldn’t have a leg to stand on in front of a tribunal but I feel so strongly about this that I was happy to go ahead with it.

“Bethany is a first-class employee, we are very happy with her but we care a great deal about our employees and I don’t want to see her ruining her health.

“Passive smoking is a big issue for us. Although we can’t stop people smoking at the front of the shop we would prefer it if employees didn’t.”

Bethany has worked at the café for little more than a month but has agreed to stop smoking to keep her job after her boss spotted her lighting up on Sunday.

She said: “I understand where he’s coming from. I understand that Julian has my best interests at heart.

“When he first told me I thought it was very unfair and I knew that strictly speaking he couldn’t tell me what to do in my own time.

“But I enjoy my job and ultimately it will be the right thing to do. It’s a good thing that I have been given a reason to stop.”

Employment law specialist Yasmin Tayob, from Howlett Clarke Solicitors, in Brighton, said: “A lot of companies are encouraging employees to give up smoking by allowing them time off to visit counselling services.

There are also a lot prohibiting workers from smoking at the front of offices.

“I don’t think this is a black-and-white case because here we have an employer trying to promote healthy food and drink and a clean atmosphere, it would indeed create the wrong image if employees were seen smoking outside or served food smelling of smoke.

“But he needs to have an official no-smoking policy and follow correct procedure.

It is going too far to ask her not to smoke at home.”