Some employers have gone ballistic on smoking — going so far as to refuse to hire smokers. Some researchers, from a surprising source, say that could be a mistake. Let’s start with the question of whether you could institute an HR policy of refusing to hire smokers — based on the health costs or just general objections to smoking. You can’t mandate such a ban if you’re in the District of Columbia or any of the 30 states that have so-called “smokers’ rights” laws that prohibit hiring decisions based on smoking. Of course, in most states, you can prohibit smoking on company property by employees and others.
But back to the question of whether it would be a good idea to refuse to hire smokers. One anti-smoking journal, Tobacco Control, says that may not be a good idea. Here’s why:
- If the decision were based on health-related costs, you could easily then ask, Why not ban people with with weight-related problems, such as high cholesterol or diabetes?
- Would you be turning away good talent because of a smoking addiction — an addiction that could be licked with some help? Sure, when unemployment is high and lots of people are job hunting, you can be choosy. But do you really want to lose that top salesperson or IT manager to a competitor because of smoking? And what about when the employment market turns around, and you find yourself scrambling for good people?
Researchers at Tobacco Control recommend against a ban on hiring smokers. Instead, they say, employers should push hard to get employees into smoking-cessation programs, especially ones sponsored at work. Every analysis of such programs shows they’re cost effective in improving absentee rates and time lost because of smoking-related illnesses.