Priority Number

Rising Smoke: Is it Legal to Implement Policies Against Hiring Smokers?

By Ashley Kaplan, Esq. on 5/16/2014

Many companies strive to create a healthy work environment. They may encourage regular fitness and better nutrition, along with offering a comprehensive medical plan and banning smoking on the premises. It is well-recognized that smoking is harmful to one's health - causing an estimated 440,000 deaths per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although the dangers are black and white, there is an ethical dilemma in refusing to hire employees who use tobacco.

Despite all the dangers that smoking causes, there are legal implications in screening smokers in the hiring process.

This bold step disproportionately affects groups that are struggling financially or are unemployed - those who are more likely to smoke. More than 36 percent of Americans living below the federal poverty line are smokers and 45 percent of unemployed individuals are smokers, according to the New England Journal of Medicine.

While refusing to hire smokers is perfectly legal in 21 states, the remaining 29 have passed laws prohibiting employers from turning away job candidates because they smoke.

A few companies like the Cleveland Clinic, the University of Pennsylvania Health Care System and Union Pacific Railroad have implemented policies against hiring smokers. By putting a ban on smokers, they aim to help people quit the bad habit and lead them toward a smoke-free lifestyle. But some argue that smoking is not entirely voluntary, and the addictive behavior makes barring job candidates an act of discrimination.

A less controversial route could be to offer proactive cessation programs.

Walgreens, for example, provides nicotine-replacement therapy and smoking-cessation counseling to help employees break the habit. By offering this level of support and expanding the pool of qualified employees, both parties may benefit.

If your business is considering a policy against hiring smokers, review the legislation in your state first. While it may be legal in your state to exclude smokers, some employers find they achieve greater benefits by hiring the most qualified candidates and then addressing their tobacco use with effective cessation programs. ​

Policies, Hiring and Performance, Paid Time Off, Paid Sick Leave Law
Ashley Recommends