Now Hiring – Unless You Smoke

Hospitals and other medical facilities are now using smoking as hiring criteria. Hospitals in Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas have openly stopped hiring smokers while hiring managers at other hospitals are considering the idea.

Smokers have been personae non gratae in the United States for years as smokers have become less sexy and more of a public health concern. Study after study has been released regarding the health risks for smokers, and more importantly for non-smokers inhaling second-hand smoke. In addition, some employers have banned smoking as a way to cut insurance costs. According to the CDC, the health expenditures from smoking total $96 billion annually.

In the past, employers have taken measures to curb smoking by employees by banning smoking indoors and offering incentives to those who quit smoking. But employers aren’t finding those measures to be effective enough. Some companies will now administer urine tests for applicants before extending an offer, while other companies are going by the honor system. In addition to hiring practices that ban smoking, cities have been banning smoking in public recently, including Washington, DC, and Charlotte, NC. Last year, New York City lawmakers extended an indoor smoking ban to public outdoor areas.

"Actually, under federal law it is legal for anyone to not hire someone because they are a smoker, as long as it doesn't disproportionately impact a protected group." explains Michelle Woolley, an attorney with Murphy Anderson PLLC. Other than protected classes based on such criteria as race, color, gender, age, religion, and national origin (among others) a company has discretion on the types of people it hires. Individual states can pass laws to protect other classes. Some jurisdictions have passed laws protecting additional classes based on sexual orientation, gender identity. Santa Cruz, CA, Washington, DC and San Francisco, CA have approved legislation protecting people based on weight. 30 states including New Hampshire, Colorado, Indiana, Maine and South Carolina have passed so-called smokers’ rights laws – each jurisdiction has discretion in the strictness of the laws.

On one hand, organizations that treat health problems have a right to hire people who practice the company philosophy. On the other hand, civil liberties groups, anti-tobacco groups and others are nervous at the slippery slope that banning a legal practice will have. Theoretically, companies could ban people who eat red meat, go skydiving, or engage in risky sexual behavior.

Photo by Andrew Magill