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Smoking could be hazardous to your job - should employers be allowed to discriminate against smokers?

Should it be legal to ban hiring smokers?
Should it be legal to ban hiring smokers?
Stephen Burch/Flickr Creative Commons

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As if there weren’t enough impediments to landing a job these days.  A growing national trend has some employers – predominantly health care institutions – deeming those who admit to being tobacco users candidates-non-grata. Twenty-nine states, including California, have laws prohibiting discriminatory hiring based on legal activity, and as of this writing, smoking is still legal throughout the U.S.  But in those who don’t, employers are free to cite being smoke-free as a condition of employment.

The latest to adopt the policy is the University of Pennsylvania Health Care System; their website calls it a step “toward a tobacco free future” and lists improving worker health and reducing insurance costs among the reasons.  Candidates are required to attest on their application that they don’t light up, with falsified information grounds for termination. Civil rights advocates call the policy invasive and discriminatory.

What’s next, you might ask? What other potentially harmful yet legal activities could violate future company policies - drinking, swimming,  running barefoot?  Does a non-smoking workforce really translate into saved costs for employers?  Should people be encouraged to kick the habit with sticks rather than carrots?  Should California amend its current law to allow for a ban on hiring smokers?

Dave Fotsch, Public Information Officer, Idaho Central District Health Department

Lewis Maltby, President, National Workrights Institute