Workplaces banning smokers — period. Is that cool?

Here is something I’ve written about before, employers not only banning people from smoking on the premises, but refusing to hire smokers and firing people for being smokers.

This USA Today article looks at this. There are a growing number of companies that are doing this, even including nicotine in the list of things they drug test for. If employees test positive for nicotine, boom, they’re out the door.

Hospitals and health organizations have led the way on this. The reasoning is two-fold:

  • A) Smokers raise the health insurance premiums of everyone — smokers and nonsmokers alike. (And this is true. It’s been well-documented.)
  • B) Smokers also have a higher level of absenteeism and illness than nonsmokers and thus their productivity is affected (Also well-documented).

That being said, this still smells very wrong to me. I prefer the carrot approach to cutting down smoking, not the stick. This is kind of where I split from the rest of the anti-tobacco lobby.

I’m perfectly OK with employers charging higher insurance premiums to smokers. I think that’s completely fair because smokers do cost everyone money and should pay their share. At the same time, I’m also OK for higher premiums for being who are obese, because obesity causes nearly as many health problems as smoking (and may cause more premature deaths than smoking within the next 10 to 15 years.). But, refusing to hire people and firing people? Smells wrong.

What I personally would VASTLY prefer is if companies helped pay for smoking cessation programs for their employees, with the “carrot” being lower premiums if they are successful in quitting. If smokers don’t want to go through the program and are OK paying higher premiums, that’s their prerogative.

As far as I know, no smokers has ever won an anti-discrimination suit against a company for refusing to hire smokers or firing someone. I’ve scoured the Internet. People have filed suit, but I haven’t found a case in which a smoker has won or got a policy overturned. For the moment, it appears in certain states, companies have the right to do this. Apparently under federal law, smokers are not considered a “class” of person, so this is a legal practice under federal law.

People have sued and have won cases for being fired for being overweight. What’s the difference? No employer in his right mind is going to fire someone for being fat and then telling them that to their faces (places like Hooters can get away with this somehow). But, you can fire a smoker because they smoke on their own time?

A total of 29 states have passed laws protecting smokers’ rights, but in 21 states, companies can still fire and refuse to hire smokers. I really think this goes too far. I’m not comfortable with it.

(As an aside, I noticed one charity quoted — the American Lung Association — as not hiring smoking. Hah, OK, I can see that!)


One thought on “Workplaces banning smokers — period. Is that cool?”

  1. Yeah! Thats the first thing that came to my mind was the health insurance costs. Smoking and diabetes related illness must make up the bulk of our burgeoning health care expenses.

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