Bans on Smokers in the Workplace Continues

“More job-seekers are facing an added requirement: no smoking — at work or anytime.” That is the opening line of an article on USA Today’s Money website. I will defer to the news organization and the author of the piece but, to be frank, I have doubts about the objective veracity of that statement. I am certain, however, that this story is not a new one.

In October of last year, for example, we noted that Texas’ Baylor Health Care System had elected to implement a ban hiring smokers. This does support the USA Today’s claim that health-care employers are leading the way in this trend. We also wrote about this trend nearly a year ago in February of 2011 in a post, called Health-Care Employers Who Don’t Hire Smokers, in which we discussed a similar article in the New York Times.

The underlying question in these and similar articles is whether it is a good idea for employers to discriminate against individuals who use tobacco. Without coming out and saying so, both articles seem to conclude that the answer to this question is “yes.” As you can read in my previous posts, I tend to be less convinced. Primarily, my concerns are as follows:

1. I don’t believe that the best way to address productivity is through a ban on employing smokers. The better way to handle this is through better management. Simply implement a ban on workday smoke breaks; and

2. Tobacco use is a legal activity (at least for now). There are countless other legal activities that endanger the health of employees–obesity in particular. However, it would be a tremendously bad PR move to stop hiring the morbidly obese. We can refuse hiring smokers because smokers are an unpopular group in today’s society. Being a defense lawyer, I hesitate to endorse what can seem like picking on an already marginalized group.

That being said, I also recognize that health and wellness are good things. And I would readily support an employer whose real objective is to give its workforce the tools to lead healthier and, in turn, more productive lives. I just tend to think that this should not be limited to bans on smokers.

See also:
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;
A Whirlpool of Excitement about Rights of Employees Who Smoke