Is It Unethical to Not Hire Smokers?

(Photo: Julie Bocchino)

That is the question asked in a New England Journal of Medicine column by Harald Schmidt, Kristin Voigt, and Ezekiel J. Emanuel:

Finding employment is becoming increasingly difficult for smokers. Twenty-nine U.S. states have passed legislation prohibiting employers from refusing to hire job candidates because they smoke, but 21 states have no such restrictions. Many health care organizations, such as the Cleveland Clinic and Baylor Health Care System, and some large non–health care employers, including Scotts Miracle-Gro, Union Pacific Railroad, and Alaska Airlines, now have a policy of not hiring smokers — a practice opposed by 65% of Americans, according to a 2012 poll by Harris International.

Where do the authors come down?

We agree with those polled, believing that categorically refusing to hire smokers is unethical: it results in a failure to care for people, places an additional burden on already-disadvantaged populations, and preempts interventions that more effectively promote smoking cessation.

But you should read the entire piece; it is clear-headed and interesting throughout. A couple more snippets:

In addition, all other diseases — and many healthful behaviors — also result in additional health care costs. People with cancer burden their fellow workers through higher health care costs and absenteeism. People who engage in risky sports may have accidents or experience trauma routinely and burden coworkers with additional costs. Having babies increases premiums for fellow employees who have none. Many of these costs result from seemingly innocent, everyday lifestyle choices; some choices, such as those regarding diet and exercise, may affect cancer incidence as well as rates of diabetes and heart disease.

And:

Finally, although less than one fifth of Americans currently smoke, rates of tobacco use vary markedly among sociodemographic groups, with higher rates in poorer and less-educated populations. Some 42% of American Indian or Alaska Native adults smoke, but only 8% of Asian women do. Among adults with less than a high school education, 32% are smokers; among college graduates, smoking rates are just over 13%. More than 36% of Americans living below the federal poverty line are smokers, as compared with 22.5% of those with incomes above that level. Crucially, policies against hiring smokers result in a “double whammy” for many unemployed people, among whom smoking rates are nearly 45% (as compared with 28% among Americans with full-time employment). These policies therefore disproportionately and unfairly affect groups that are already burdened by high unemployment rates, poor job prospects, and job insecurity.

It’s also worth reading the comments. Here is one (based on this famous quote), from a physician in Colombia named Mauricio Lema:

First they came for the smokers,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a smoker.

Then they came for the obese,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t fat.

Then they came for the women in childbearing age,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a woman.

Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.

The word for it when the government does it is fascism. In the business world is just plain [Machiavellianism]. You may get away with it, but don’t disguise it as a stimulus. It stinks worse than tobacco, and it sends the wrong message: that you can bully other people with impunity just because YOU can.

Disclosure: I am obese.

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  1. Eric W says:

    Forget the health care costs (which are very real). Lets just focus on what smoking tells an employer.

    Smoking is horrible for you. We all know it. So smoking signals to an employer that you don’t make good choices in the face of overwhelming evidence. No offense to smokers, but that’s not the sort of person I want to hire.

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    • Seminymous Coward says:

      Being unhealthy is not a complete argument against something. There’s clearly some degree of unhealthiness and unsafeness that virtually everyone will accept in exchange for enjoyment or fulfillment; see, for example, dessert, sports, and pregnancy. The difference is in probabilities and proportions. That someone else weighs harm and fun differently from you, in general or a specific case, doesn’t make their decisions invalid.

      More importantly, their decisions shouldn’t be subject to your review as an employer at all. Employees’ lives outside of work are their own.

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      • Eric W says:

        I take the libertarian sort of view: I’m paying the employee, so I can have any restrictions I want(within the law of course). If I want to say I only hire people who drink Pepsi, I should be able to do that. You don’t like my restrictions? Start your own company and work there :) No one is forcing you to work here.

        Now obviously, as an employer I’d be excluding people who would otherwise be an asset for the company and I’m potentially annoying customers if they feel my policy is arbitrary or cruel. But that should be MY choice to make. The government should not force me to hire anyone I don’t want to.

        You as an employee can also make any decision you want. You just have to understand there may be consequences that you don’t like. Such is life.

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      • Pshrnk says:

        Then you can bear the cost of your weighting decisions, just as you reap the pleasures.

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      • JulyJellyfish says:

        Being an employer does not equate to having the privilege to disregard the issues regarding social equality. For what comes out of the rationale of not hiring smokers is the presumption that they are less valuable. But what exactly leads you to think that non-smokers are necessarily more valuable?
        Just EVEN IF smokers are indeed more prone to work problems, it does not legitimize discrimination, for the exact same reason can be used to discriminate people based on sexuality, race and gender. Because presumed probability should never be the standard. If that’s the case, we might as well throw all blacks into jail preemptively because that’s what discrimination based on arbitrary grounds does.

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      • Dave F. says:

        @July
        But why should being an employer mean you have to bear a large portion of the cost (rather than society as a whole or the smoker) of someone else’s poor decisions. If the smoker smoking makes him less effective at that job why should force the employer to subsidize him? The employer has to compete as well…
        Furthermore, any policy you might have around this is unwieldy and in the end will probably hurt the smokers more than help. The discrimination will be more subtle, employers will shift salary to being more performance based (whether from sales commissions or from bonuses and the market will do what it can to correct itself. If the market can correct itself, the smoker has accepted a job in which he won’t be compensated according to his expectations, and will have inappropriately weighed the benefits of a job when he could be working more efficiently elsewhere. If the market can’t correct itself, then the full cost is landing on the employer, giving him an unfair disadvantage relative to his competition – both he and the smoking employee are more likely to be out of work.

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      • JulyJellyfish says:

        Hi Dave,

        It seems that you are quite insistent on the assumption that smokers are ineffective workers, which remains an unproven assertion. That aside, I am not advocating the idea that employers should have any choice at all. The important thing is that we make sure the choice is based on legitimate grounds, but not arbitrary standards. If a particular smoker is proven ineffective and unproductive, of course you can fire him.
        But at the point of employment, before you actually know him, it’s unfair to deny this new applicant based on the rough labeling that he is automatically unproductive. As my last comment mentioned, this is no different from throwing all blacks into jail preemptively.
        For problems of subtle discrimination, rights exist in divorce of benefits. Even if employers do become sneakier, that’s hardly a reason for us to give up. There is always another way to prevent even subtle punishment. But on the contrary, given that employers are indeed so stingy and as sneaky you suggest, what then could possible change their mind if they are allowed to exercise their biases to the fullest extent?

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      • Dave F. says:

        @July

        You are right in that I am assuming less productivity for smokers, but I will freely admit that that isn’t always the case. Some jobs will have high costs and in some the costs will be almost non-existent. Laws requiring employers to allow smoking breaks will help my argument though, and in that way are an enemy to the smoker.

        My concern with the law is 1) That we are then allowing government to determine, rather than business owners who have a vested interest, the cost associated with hiring a smoker. 2) We have increased costs for a new agency, more court cases, and lots of time wasted.

        My counter example is what happens if a smoker is being inappropriately discriminated against (no cost to business, but the employer just dislikes him)? In other words, the smoker would be the best candidate but because the employer dislikes his habit he isn’t fired. Then the employer is losing the better worker and paying a price for his prejudice. Another employer without prejudice (those I consider to be in the majority) can snap the smoker up and capitalize on his greater abilities.

        By passing legislation, you are creating a situation less advantageous to the competitor, and I would argue still creating a negative work environment for the smoker. No one is helped, and you have significantly reduced the cost of prejudice.

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      • JulyJellyfish says:

        Hi Dave,

        Since you have conceded that not all smokers are unproductive, then it merits the question: is it then justifiable to discriminate on the ground of being a smoker? With the practical implication set aside, The answer in principle is apparently No.

        Nonetheless let’s deal with the practical implications:
        1) business is losing money.
        This is never a ground for government to stop intervention. We wouldn’t allow companies to discriminate women simply because giving maternity leaves is a loss in profit. Business operation is subject to the order of law to deliver goods and services, not the other way around. If creating a separate breast feeding room costs tons of money, so be it. Social equality should take priority over business interest.

        2) government sets priority for business
        Government has every right to make sure equality is upheld across the board. The business operators do have a vested interest, but it is just for their selfish ends. Allowing these interests to grow unchecked creates a problem we call “tragedy of the commons.”
        To be sure, if a worker fails to comply with company policy prohibiting smoking in office or taking too much time off for smoking break, they can rightfully be punished. But until they demonstrate such violation, they should be assumed equal with non-smokers, since smoking is a legitimate life style that state legislates. Unless the business owner would like to contest the fundamental legality of smoking at all, it’s an impossible burden to prove smoking warrants a reasonable discrimination.

        3) prejudice will pays the price anyway. let the market go
        It’s a rosy picture that market will correct itself. To some extent business owner might realize it’s wrong and organically change their mind. But if they can change anyway we only speed up the process, no harm imposed. The scenario where another competitor pays higher wages to hire a rejected applicant is unrealistic, for why would a company pay more for an unwanted employee. It’s like say I would pay more for a chocolate bar when there are literally unwanted chocolate everywhere.

        4) workers still suffer from subtle prejudice
        Compared with the alternative, which is being pushed around and waiting for the mercy of some company who happen not to be biased, the workers in this case is the one who makes the choice. This is important because what if the company that happen to accept him is not the company he want? What if he wants to work in Apple but only McDonalds is willing to take him?
        As previously mentioned even subtle discrimination can be detected and regulated, and they will always exist anyway, or more likely, get worse. Smokers don’t really get a better deal.

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      • Dave F. says:

        @July
        That is an amazing travesty the way you have twisted my words. I said that some industries would be less effected, some more, and that government would be a poor way to decide which is which.

        1) Business will lose money – This isn’t a small problem. Our businesses compete with each other and a global market. Our businesses employ the nation. Our businesses don’t just grow the economy, they ARE the economy. Inefficiency caused by forcing businesses to hire workers that are ill suited to those tasks because of smoking hurts everyone. Why should that business, and all of society, pay the price for someone else’s bad choices, especially when they are ready alternatives. Where is the moral argument there? The reality is the WE are responsible for ourselves, and saying anything else is a lie.

        2) Tragedy of the commons is the depletion of shared resources by everyone, especially when the common resource can’t defend itself. This is a good reason for government intervention, and has absolutely NOTHING to do with this conversation. Saying ‘economic-y’ things doesn’t make one sound smart around this crowd.
        There is no equality in the smoker protection laws. Are the fair for the person who didn’t get the job although he would produce more because he doesn’t need smoking breaks? Are they fair for the consumers who pay higher prices because the business isn’t as efficient? Are the fair for the employer who has to pay a higher amount per unit of production for the smoker as opposed to his other workers? Is it fair for the other workers who are paid less per unit of production than the smokers? These laws are simply an attempt to decouple production with pay, provided you are willing to smoke to do so
        3) You haven’t understood my argument here. If there ARE prejudice employers, that creates a lower demand for smokers at every level – smokers will indeed get a somewhat lower salary. The prejudice employer is paying more to his non-smoking employee while the non-prejudice employer is paying less. Overall, the less prejudice person has a distinct business advantage. The greater the prejudice, the greater the cost of the prejudice. This has happened through history, and has worked very well. Furthermore, it is far less rosy than the idea that government can fix prejudice with policy.
        4) The idea that no one would take an apple-worth employee besides McDonalds is laughable. Besides, why do we believe any company has an obligation to hire anyone else? This is an agreement between employee and employer.

        The real rosy picture is the idea that even subtle discrimination can be detected and dealt with. There is so much natural variation in salary even within similar positions that ‘proving’ discrimination isn’t a simple task. Especially not for government.

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      • JulyJellyfish says:

        Hi Dave,

        Maybe, just maybe, you could name a few industries that are so intensely competitive that smoking breaks are absolutely devastating to the production capacity and our nation would collapse in the face of that. I do not contest the idea that industries are important to the economy and we all have a stake in it, but it’s an irrelevant point because before you accuse me of bringing down the whole nation, you have to show how this could be the case practically.
        Here are a few attempts you have launched but do not quite connect:

        1) your entire premise: smokers are ineffective workers
        Yes, some are productive but then, some are just as productive, or even more productive than others who don’t smoke (which you conceded to be true). Given that smoking does not definitely determine one’s capacity, why do you still claim that somehow they always make “bad decisions” or “cause inefficiency.” Of course I won’t force industries to take lazy workers, but all I am saying is you shouldn’t “presume” they are lazy.

        With the premise undermined, a whole chunk of your case about how non-smoking coworkers are unfairly paying for smokers and smokers disrupts competition necessarily falls.

        2) tragedy of the commons. It’s interesting that your distinction between the traditional view of this theory and these particular smokers is that one cannot defend themselves and another can. While in your following paragraph you already conceded that workers will indeed be paid lower wages, I fail to see how workers are somehow defensible.
        However, the strengthen of this argument is more than just that. You have to realize the underlying logic why “tragedy of the commons” is even an issue is that corporations’ interests are inherently selfish. If they have to kill 100 African children every day to make a profit, they will do it, or worse, they will kill 200 so that they profit double.

        3+4) Market will reward the non-prejudiced owner. But at what cost? It comes at the expense of the worker’s right. Now workers will face less options to choose from and receive lower wages. Why can’t we reward the workers for their own working merits instead? On your paradigm no bias is fixed (as my previously comments have pointed out) but business owners have all the power to determine who is subjectively valuable to them. But in my paradigm we simply speed up the process of recognizing smokers are just as productive without the extra expense of subjecting applicants to the whims of employers.

        Of course, companies don’t have obligation to hire people, but it doesn’t mean they can just arbitrarily discriminate people. What about examples I enumerated about maternity leaves, breast feeding rooms and throwing blacks to jail preemptively? The apple-McDonalds example might be exaggerated but it does not undercut the very notion that workers could end up working in a companies where his talents don’t deserve. Unless you are willing to defend underemployment is even a good thing, your attack on example at best only addressed what was convenient to mock.

        Subtle discrimination might be difficult to detect, but it shouldn’t be the reason why we drop the balls. Just like we don’t decriminalize murder because people invent new ways to kill each other, we don’t allow discrimination simply because people invent new ways to ostracize each other. On the converse, you still have not shown how would the discrimination will do away on your paradigm other than the flimsy economic-ish assertion. If it’s indeed hard to detect, why would employers stop doing it organically without any sort of government intervention?

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      • Dave F. says:

        I don’t know of any companies that would be devastated by hiring smokers. I also don’t know of any smoker who would be devastated by a single place discriminating against them with good reason. We believe in margins in economics. Smokers and a few less job opportunities are a small factor in the economy, so any legislation will only have a small effect. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a right and wrong, or that the net effect is negative.

        1) I never said or indicated that smokers were lazy, merely that there were costs associated with employing them on average, and some industries would be affected more than others (healthcare is the typical one, although many cite sales as an environment where smoker breath detracts). The fact that smokers bear a cost IS well studied. Smokers have more sick days, and are less productive at work ON AVERAGE. Several studies show this, although I will post a couple for you http://www.tcyh.org/employers/downloads/Effect%2520of%2520Smoking%2520on%2520Productivity%2520Loss.pdf
        http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1747570/pdf/v010p00233.pdf
        No one who has looked at the data thinks the average smoker is as productive. Many will be, but to the extent that they aren’t the effect is that everyone pays for it as described.

        2) First off, you still have no understanding of a tragedy of the commons. Please, at least Wikipedia it or something before pretending any more that you have an idea. Call up an econ buddy and ask him. You are simply wrong. Furthermore, you have revealed the basis of why you can’t see straight on this issue. You are facing it with the assumption that all businessman are evil tyrants who must be controlled by supposed policy angels in government. Not even Krugman would think there was validity to this sort of mindset.

        3/4) What is this worker’s right you mention? The right of the worker to force others to hire him? No, the employer, who is paying the money, has a right to determine who will give him the best return on his investment. If he says a smoker won’t do that, then that is his gain/loss to make. If he is making it purely on prejudice, he is hurting himself more than anyone else. The jail example isn’t even related – I am not sure how to even address it as it is just pure silliness. Employers never have all the information in hiring decisions, they merely do their best with the information that they have. If they believe that an employee smoking will make their chances of getting a ROI for hiring less likely, why should they help their competition by hiring them.

        You seem unbalanced – why are we comparing not hiring a smoker to murder? The economics is solid – I invite you to find a single real economist who thinks the basic incentives I have discussed aren’t real. In the meantime, you are on an economic site spouting gibberish about taking some people’s rights away to subsidize others without any real good effects. Check out the 6 studies cited at http://smallbusiness.chron.com/negative-impact-smokers-workplace-21811.html, they also point to decreased productivity, effects of secondhand smoke, higher healthcare costs for everyone, and the decrease in smokers that come from smoking cessation programs. Look at the data, think about the data.

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      • JulyJellyfish says:

        Hi Dave,

        Picture this in your mind. You see a black man walk across the street and kill a man. A few minutes later you see another black man kill another man. And a few minutes late, another.
        Now, here comes the fourth black man. Do you arrest this man after he kills a man? Or do you arrest him preemptively? By the extension of your logic, it would be the latter.

        You cannot deal with the jail example precisely because it directly questions your fundamental assumption of acting based on probability, rather than concrete outcomes. You also can’t answer the example of maternity leaves and breasting feeding rooms for the same reason. Companies will also have excuse to discriminate people, especially when they are given a green light to do so.

        You brag a lot about you knowledge of economics but just fail to respond to this most simple idea. When corporations have the tendency to legitimize their discrimination with the excuse that they are just not productive. I do not doubt that on average smokers will incur more health problems. What I am trying to say, and what you have time and time again fail to engage is this: why should business owners be allowed to make that judgement preemptively?

        If you want to defend companies aren’t like tyrannies that need to be curtailed, prove it. If you want to prove my understanding of tragedy of the commons does not fit this context, prove it. If you can’t, it’s obvious now who is depending on wikipedia for the main source of reference.

        Workers rights include not to be arbitrarily discriminated. If you really know anything about economics, at least you should know efficient coworkers won’t be shouldering for inefficient/lazy workers because they can be fired. (a point stressed over and over)

        Is it really that hard to make sure discrimination don’t lead to underdevelopment? Should workers be subject to the whims of the business owner? Aside from the misunderstood contextual example, you have provided no answer.

        Why am I comparing hiring to murder? Simple. Because since you can’t disprove that it is illegitimate to discriminate on the basis of smoking, the government can’t excuse itself from fighting against the wrong even in the face of adversity (in this case, subtler discrimination). Or did you forget your own case?

        Oh and of course you did not say “lazy,” but then what’s the difference? Or are you just out of constructive materials to talk about and therefore have to resort to triviality? Please, engage in a meaningful manner.

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    • Clancy says:

      Nicotine is a powerfully addictive chemical. You can be perfectly rational and well informed of the risks and dangers of smoking and quitting can still be impossible. Sure, it means they made a bad decision when they started, probably when they were teenagers, but if you restrict your hiring to only people who never made a bad decision in their teenage years you may have trouble filling your job openings.

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    • Astraea says:

      You can say the same thing about someone who is overweight, or has any other condition that is not genetic. Would you say that someone like Dubner, who is overweight per his comment, signals that he makes bad choices and would not be a worthwhile hire?

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    • Pshrnk says:

      Choices have consequences. Some types of insurance policies incurr extra premiums if you engage in high risk activities. Smokers are more prevalent among the poor because the poor on average make more poor choices. No one has to be addicted to anything. The more we pretend that the choice to first try any substance is not a moral decision the more addiction we will get. The moral question is about risk taking…and it is a moral question. That is why for instance I will not get a motorcycle while I still have minor children.

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  2. Ben says:

    I’m an almost-graduated law student hunting for jobs. I interviewed with a small firm last week, and in one part of the interview, the partner asked me several inappropriate questions like my age, marital status, etc. He asked if I was on any prescription drugs, and if I smoked. I answered the questions, but told him they were very inappropriate for an interview, and they sounded discriminatory. Whether I smoke (and all the other discriminatory questions) is irrelevant to my ability to practice law effectively. There may be some professions where smoking is a relevant and appropriate discrimination, but I can’t think of any. Oh, and I don’t smoke.

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    • Mike B says:

      Did you ever think that clients may be turned off by someone who smells like a humidor?

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      • Seminymous Coward says:

        Lots of people are turned off by disabilities, aging, pregnancy, and simple ugliness.

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      • Astraea says:

        Did you ever think that it’s still illegal to discriminate? Even if clients would prefer a tall, white, middle-aged male lawyer, you cannot refuse to hire people who do not fit that mold because clients will be “turned off.”

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      • Michael says:

        Legal or illegal is not at all the point. Discrimination based on sex, age, religion, and so on is clearly already illegal. The law wrt smoking is clear in those 29 states the article mentions, ambiguous otherwise.

        The question isn’t legality but ethics, whether refusing to hire smokers is ethical. See the blog post title. Lots of ethical things are illegal, lots of un-ethical things are legal.

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      • Rex W. says:

        To a point made earlier, we have to remember that tobacco is a behavior. Granted also a very strong addiction, but nonetheless a behavior.
        For this reason some companies provide a probationary period for new hires who are tobacco users. If they cannot quit by the end of the probationary period (maybe 6 months) they are terminated.

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      • Jaan says:

        I’m a small business owner and a heavy smoker (30-35 cigarettes/day).
        It might sound awkward but when hiring, I have a preference for smokers. My business is consulting other businesses, I meet with high level execs daily – formal meetings, business lunches, dinners. And cigars with cognac. So it’s only logical that I prefer smokers who enjoy a good cigar now and then and can participate in meetings that don’t take place in non-smoking environments.
        I also like to have an occasional cigarette with my colleagues.
        Nobody has ever told me that I smell like a humidor. (Actually, I think term that Mike B meant, is to smell like an ashtray (humidors smell good – as good as any other wooden box).) And nobody has ever told me to quit or to smoke less. Everybody (I mean EVERYBODY) whom I have done business with, has tolerated my smoking habits.
        Have I made lots of bad decisions? Depends what are the metrics for evaluation. I’m 36, have very good health, own a very successful business and enjoy every moment of my life. I’ve never been to a doctor (except once after breaking my arm).
        Disclosure: I live in Europe

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    • Michael says:

      By agreeing to hire you, your employer is essentially endorsing you, putting you forward before the world as someone they want to represent their business. Smoking kills people, so people may not want to endorse smokers, for ethical reasons.

      Just like I wouldn’t hire someone who’s horribly racist/sexist because I don’t want the world to mistakenly think I endorse that position, so I’d be hesitant to hire smokers.

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      • Joel Upchurch says:

        By extension, employers should be allowed to discriminate against homosexuals, since hiring them would be endorsing their lifestyle.

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      • Michael says:

        @joel

        I’d protest and refuse to patronize a business that expressed discrimination against homosexuals. I would say that it is morally wrong for them to do such a thing, and disappointing. That it suggests a failing in them. But some people will still do this.

        ‘Should they be allowed’ is not a good way to look at situation. Are they asking for permission? From whom? Should there be someone who will stand over every hiring decision and threaten people with jail time if they refuse to hire people they don’t want to hire, but for socially unacceptable reasons? That way lies tyranny.

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    • Richard F says:

      Airline pilot would be one profession where smoking is probably relevant. You can’t smoke in airplanes, you can’t smoke in terminals, you can’t smoke around airplanes being fueled. You also aren’t going to want your pilot needing nicotine while the weather is crap and you’re being held in the air / tarmac longer. The same could probably be said for flight attendants.

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      • Enter your name... says:

        I read the editorial. I was not impressed. Whether tobacco use interferes with your ability to do the job wasn’t even considered by the writer. Leaving aside obvious cases (the guy driving the gasoline tanker truck, for example, or the tobacco-cessation counselor), the focus was primarily on discrimination by healthcare organizations, but it never discussed whether tobacco use was actually compatible with providing healthcare.

        A lot of healthcare organizations have a fragrance-free policy. Isn’t stinking like an ashtray a problem for the same reasons? A place that was serious about eliminating potentially dangerous smells would not accept an employee who doused himself in perfume every morning; why should they accept an employee who covers himself in tobacco smoke ten times a day?

        Tobacco smoke can trigger asthma attacks. Some asthma patients have panic attacks triggered by the smell of tobacco, even if there is no actual smoke to trigger an asthma reaction. Many pregnant women and cancer patients are nauseated by the smell. People in cessation programs are less successful if they’re around it. Nobody should have to walk through a gaggle of smokers clustered outside the building entrances (and that’s what you get, unless you ban smoking on the entire campus). Nobody should have to make a specific demand for a healthcare provider without a nauseating smell. None of that seems to matter to this author: all that matters is that some disadvantaged people will be even more disadvantaged if you don’t hire them for jobs that put them in close contact with these vulnerable patients.

        I can see the point of a more nuanced approach to hiring: chewing tobacco isn’t likely to harm bystanders, and perhaps the ban in healthcare organizations should involve only patient-facing people rather than, say, someone down in the records room or in the hospital’s kitchen. You might also differentiate between people who “smoke tobacco” in the sense of an occasional indulgence (I had a neighbor for a while who smoked exactly one cigar a year), and people who smoke tobacco before coming to work and at every opportunity throughout the work day. But I think that the editorial ignored a lot of the problems with tobacco tolerance.

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    • Enter your name... says:

      I wonder if he asked those questions to see how you would respond (and to infer from there what you would recommend to clients who brought you similar questions). If so, you flunked: The ‘correct’ answer is to inquire what your marital status, etc., has to do with your qualifications for the job, and if you’re feeling benign, to answer the ‘question behind the question’, so that the response to “Do you have any children?” is “I am looking for full-time employment and would be happy to work overtime or to travel as necessary.”

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      • Astraea says:

        Those questions are considered illegal in most states, and open up the employer to a potential claim of discrimination. I’m surprised that a lawyer interviewing would be dumb enough to ask those questions.

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      • Seminymous Coward says:

        This crossed my mind, but it wouldn’t explain the second question along those lines. Also, I suspect inquiring is illegal even if your intent isn’t to receive a direct answer.

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      • Enter your name... says:

        I worked in human resources in the 1990s, so my information may be out of date, but at least at that time, it was perfectly legal to ask the question, but illegal to use the answer to discriminate against protected classes. So as a result, we set internal policies to prohibit asking, on the grounds that asking the question could lead to a lawsuit (HR’s job is to prevent the lawsuit, not to prevent us from losing a lawsuit) and not asking couldn’t harm us.

        We also had a specialized question about overtime: one large department frequently had to work late on Friday evenings, which is a problem for observant Jews. We really didn’t care about the applicants’ religion (or college classes or hot dates or plans to drive to the lake cabin or whatever else they might have preferred to do on Friday evenings), but we did care whether they would be willing and able to pull their fair share of Friday evening overtime. So “This department works late every Friday evening. Employees are expected to work overtime at least every other Friday, usually until seven or eight o’clock at night. Do you have any concerns about this?”

        (There are legal ways to use the information raised by otherwise dangerous questions; for example, the race of actors is relevant to their jobs, and the gender of people providing toileting and bathing help to people who would be ashamed by an opposite-sex assistant is relevant to their jobs. There just weren’t any legal ways for *us* to use that information, so we prohibited them.)

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  3. LD says:

    ” it results in a failure to care for people, places an additional burden on already-disadvantaged populations, and preempts interventions that more effectively promote smoking cessation.”

    How is any of that the responsibility of a business?

    I like Eric W’s comment. It shows poor decision making. Ultimately companies can make decisions they feel are in their best interests (within the law). If they are losing out on good employees because of this policy they will change their practices. But I doubt that’s the case.

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  4. Seminymous Coward says:

    I’m more concerned with the employer imagining that it’s their business whether employees smoke or not. Applications are intrusive enough as it is. Employment contracts shouldn’t be a license to pry into private affairs.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 26 Thumb down 23
    • LS says:

      Fine, but let’s see how many smokers can show up to work not reeking of smoke and then make it all the way from 8 to 5 without ever lighting up, every single day. If you can really do that, no one will even know much less care, but the fact is that most smokers bring their smoking into the workplace.

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      • Kelly says:

        @LS I have showed up to work all my (working) life not smelling like smoke and working 12 HOUR shifts with no smoking….and I’m a smoker. Almost every person I have worked for or with never knew I even smoked UNLESS they saw me doing it.

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  5. Ashley R says:

    I’m surprised they don’t mention smoke breaks. Does the average smoker work as much of the 40 hour week compared to a non-smoker?

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    • Astraea says:

      Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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      • Rex W. says:

        Yes, but human behavior takes over and, breaks carry a value.

        I, first hand, experienced a case in which a department (emergency room) manager was a smoker, allowed fellow smokers additional breaks and, as a result a non-smoker took up smoking in order to “justify” the additional breaks.

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    • Enter your name... says:

      They also don’t mention cleaning costs (emptying ashtrays, picking up litter). They aren’t actually interested in that. Their focus is on social justice for disadvantaged racial minorities that happen to also be heavy tobacco users.

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  6. Craig says:

    Instead of going after smokers, why don’t employeers go after the health care industry? Health care costs are high because of fraudulent behavior on the part of the health care industry, not because of risky patient behavior.

    For instance. I had a sleep study that was quoted to me at $1700. Although I had no extraordinary procedures or problems, the clinic charged my insurance company $4200+. Then when I called to complain, they told me they would never charge me more then I was quoted. So they wiped the $2000 my insurance company slated as patient responsibility. But they kept the other $2200 ($500 more then they quoted me) they got from the insurance company.

    And now they’re trying to pin it on us so they can keep their greed driven fraud going? Bull crap! I never though I’d say this, but socialism is beginning to look a hell of a lot more attractive then out of control selfishness and greed.

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  7. Eric M. Jones says:

    Would you hire a crackhead or a junkie? Well, smokers are junkies. They waste YOUR time and money on their addiction.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 27 Thumb down 30
    • Craig says:

      Maybe they otta stop hiring caffeine addicts as well.

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      • Rex W. says:

        Then nothing would ever get done!

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      • Pshrnk says:

        You cannot smell the caffeine on me and my caffeine will not trigger your allergies and asthma.

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    • James says:

      Note that the government often MANDATES that companies test applicants for other drug use, and (I think – I’m not up on current employment law) not hire for some jobs because of use. Why should tobacco be any different?

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      • ERLW says:

        Because smoking tobacco is legal.

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      • Enter your name... says:

        Drinking alcohol is legal, too, and that’s also on the drug screening tests.

        The point behind the drug testing is to identify physically impaired performance. Stoned people shouldn’t operate heavy machinery, and neither should drunk people. Nicotine doesn’t impair your performance in that way. It just encourages you to take lots of breaks during the day and eventually gives you a heart attack or cancer.

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      • James says:

        “Nicotine doesn’t impair your performance in that way.”

        Has this been conclusively demonstrated? Certainly my observation has been that smokers are less intelligent & productive than non-smokers (on average), though I admit I’m not sure whether that’s because smoking lowers performance, or because it’s mostly low-performing individuals who choose to smoke.

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    • caleb b says:

      @Eric M Jones

      Good thing being a smoker doesn’t disqualify you from becoming President, right???

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      • James says:

        Wrong!

        And notice how effectively the current officeholder’s campaign (aided by the media, I believe) managed to conceal & downplay his habit.

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  8. Mike B says:

    The line between permissible and impermissible discrimination lays with the role of personal choice. Some things like race, gender, sexual preference, nationality and a large number of healthcare issues, are determined by birth and should not be basis for discrimination in areas like employment. However things like smoking, drug use, alcohol use, weight and other lifestyle choices are exactly that….CHOICES and people need to be held responsible for their choices. Yes some actions are addictive and can reduce the role of choice, however nobody forced someone to start smoking or using addictive drugs and addiction may be hard to break, but it isn’t impossible.

    On a more practical node in the case of smoking, which is simply a subset of drug use, if someone cannot overcome their addiction in order to stop smoking how can they be relied on to overcome their addiction enough to adhere to company policies on smoking like not smoking on the job? In that case the person is no longer a threat to themselves, but now could bring their personal problems into the workplace.

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    • Dave says:

      Not to get too political but was a gay gene discovered? Why is it a forgone conclusion that people are born gay? The proclivity to be attracted to the same sex may exist but more than likely it’s a combination of nature and nurture that leads to homosexuality.

      Also, is it not a lifestyle choice to indulge in it?

      Lastly, you listed “alcohol use” in what they should be able to discriminate on. Should we discriminate on alcoholism which can be hereditary?

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      • Pshrnk says:

        No one has to take that first drink. Maybe Mitt Romney has a genetic predisposition to alcoholism or other addiction, but his lifestyle prevented that from ever being a problem. No matter your genetics you do have a choice.

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    • ERLW says:

      Because you can and should assume a degree of professionalism on their part. I like to vigorously “congratulate” myself most days, but can generally be trusted to leave it outside of the office, or at least to designated break periods.

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