Health-Care Employers Who Don’t Hire Smokers

cigarette_pack_broken_cigaretteNot all workplace discrimination is unlawful.  For example, employers can refuse to hire candidates who will not wear necessary safety equipment. That is discrimination.  That is not unlawful discrimination.  One type of employment discrimination that is not unlawful in some states is discrimination against smokers or, more usually, discrimination based on tobacco use. 

We’ve written about the efforts of many employers to reduce health-care costs and increase productivity by not hiring applicants who smoke or use tobacco. (See, Health vs. Privacy: Employers Continue to Juggle Both; How Far Should Employers Go When It Comes to Employees’ Health?; Not Everyone Is Fired Up About Smoking Ban; Employer Quits Its Smoking-Penalty Policy).  Last week, the N.Y. Times ran an article about the increase in this type of “discrimination” in the health-care field.  Of all employers, it makes the most sense that an employer in health-care would not hire employees who elect an unhealthy lifestyle.

I have mixed feelings about these bans for a number of reasons.  For example, lots of non-smokers live very unhealthy lifestyles by failing to exercise or not working to reduce high cholesterol.  But smoking is, by far, a trendier target than high cholesterol.  On the other hand, smoking is also more deadly.  So if you are an employer who wants to promote health, it would make sense to target the one activity that has the farthest reaching negative impact.  (Of course, there was a study that showed that having an inconsiderate and uncommunicative boss was more likely to suffer a heart attack than an employee who smokes or who fails to exercise.  See “My Boss Is Killing Me”).

At the end of the day, though, I tend to come out on the side of a middle ground by suggesting that employers simply prohibit smoke breaks.  If an employee goes through the workday with only one opportunity to spoke (i.e., at the meal break), you’ve gone a long way to reduce tobacco use.  Additionally, this eases the discomfort from what is perceived as an employer’s intrusion into its employees’ personal lives.

It’s an argument that has good points on both sides and I find it interesting that the debate continues to go on, several years now since employers first reported refusing to hire employees who smoke.

See also:

Will President-Elect Obama Be Charged a Smoker’s Premium?

Terminating Employees for Off-Duty Conduct

State Employees Will Go From Fat to Fit–Or Else

The 5 Medical Conditions That Employers Don’t Want to See in a Candidate;

3 thoughts on “Health-Care Employers Who Don’t Hire Smokers

  1. While I agree that individuals have a choice to consume or not consume legal substances, like tobacco; I fall to the side of the employer. The employer has taken the initiative, the risk, the opportunity to create the company. Why should the employer be forced to pay for the individuals choice to smoke. The employee doesn’t experience the higher cost in his own health care. They may think they do; but when the employer is paying the majority of the premiums and claims- there is no comparison. If the smoker doesn’t like it…start your own business.


  2. In my workplace – where smoking is not allowed but smokers are – we have complaints about smokers from a different perspective than the health cost angle; thier breath is atrocious and they reek of smoke in general. We often collaborate in very close physical proximity at work. It puts non-smokers in a very awkward position to feel compelled to submit to the repugnant stench. It is not merely a matter of aesthetics. A Harvard researcher in the field of pediatrics concludes that the “bad smell” is simply more of the same toxicity that has caused us to banish second hand smoke exposure in the workplace. I’m finding the issue much more difficult to tackle from this angle. The hygeine approach simply cannot be resolved: you cannot rid your lungs of the smell that causes the bad breath, even if you can change up your clothes and clean your hair etc (which is not practical either) before returnin to work after a smoke. Thoughts anyone?


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