Smokers Need Not Apply

by Evil HR Lady on February 14, 2011

More and more companies–especially hospitals–are not just smoke free campuses, but want smoke free employees. The New York Times reports:

[E]mployees who smoke cost, on average, $3,391 more a year each for health care and lost productivity, according to federal estimates.

“We felt it was unfair for employees who maintained healthy lifestyles to have to subsidize those who do not,” Steven C. Bjelich, chief executive of St. Francis Medical Center in Cape Girardeau, Mo., which stopped hiring smokers last month. “Essentially that’s what happens.”

Keep reading at
Smokers Need Not Apply

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Sergey Gorbatov February 14, 2011 at 1:33 pm

For me, this is going overboard. Come on – this is pure discrimination. What would be the next step – not hiring those who don´t do sports? What if someone smokes and is an avid sportsman – does it balance off? Such approach is a dead end… it´s basically what happened in South Africa when the government introduced its affirmative action program: the companies did not know how to categorize white disabled males…

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Mike C. February 14, 2011 at 2:59 pm

This just comes across as yet another invasion of privacy by our employers. They already troll the internet for any picture our dumb friends have posted and now this.

What about other activities that increase risks to health? Riding a motorcycle to work perhaps, or taking up a sport more dangerous than kickball?

Wait, this gets even better. What about workplaces that force their employees to work tons and tons of overtime? That certainly means less time to sleep, eat well or exercise so that would certainly lead to more health problems. What about the effects of micromanaging bosses? That stress can lead to heart attacks and work place violence!

I hate smoking, and I find this upsetting.

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Shyster09 February 14, 2011 at 4:32 pm

Whether or not this is a bad HR policy is debatable. But in fact many states prohibit discrimination against employees for off-the-job smoking. Be careful when you consider such a policy.

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Corey Feldman February 14, 2011 at 4:34 pm

This slope is too slippery for my comfort. Where does it stop. We don't let cost act as a factor in other areas, otherwise we would only be hiring physically fit 30ish white males. Smoking is not protected for now, EEOC is unofficially saying nicotine addiction is not a disability, but I wouldn't expect that to last forever and I wouldn't want to be the test case should the consider it more along the lines of obesity – http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/release/9-30-10u.cfm

And how do you monitor it. Will you test for nicotine. What if its not the employee who smokes but a spouse. Also nicotine doesn't impair performance in the same way other drugs do. So if smoking does become protected under ADA, I think yo will have a hard time showing that tests for nicotine are job related.

This is just too invasive for employers. I also don't want to know if my employees are being sexually promiscuous, drinking diet soda, eating unhealthy foods, running marathons, going on fad diets, or any other currently legal activity that could have a significant imnpact on health costs

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Anonymous February 14, 2011 at 5:10 pm

I agree with the comments. I can understand the arguments about smoking and the associated benefit costs, but what about what you eat, if you excercise, etc? Will a new standard of employment be if you hit your suggested BMI number? This practice has been around for the past few years,and I don't understand how it's legal to prohibit a legal activity such as smoking?

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Elaine February 14, 2011 at 6:22 pm

I'm a nonsmoker and very allergic to tobacco smoke. Why should I get sick because my co-workers want to inhale poison into their lungs and then come back into the office with this poisonous fog around them? Some of us can't even use the elevator after a group of smokers comes back inside.

Smoking affects more than the people who smoke. I don't care how many people choose to die a long lingering death. Just don't try to take me with you.

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Mike C. February 14, 2011 at 7:52 pm

@Elaine – It's one thing to ask that people don't smoke at work but it's another to artificially deny them the ability to provide a home, food and medical care for themselves and their families.

No one here has even mentioned the issue of smoking at work, why are you even bringing it up?

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Acemeister February 14, 2011 at 8:48 pm

I'm with Elaine – any objective view shows that smokers take more/longer breaks (and management shouldn't HAVE to enforce reasonable time limits for adults), they get sick more, are a greater insurance risk in all areas, and they, frankly, stink when they come back in from their smoke-breaks. Of course, they can't smell how stale and terrible they are because their senses are dulled from their frequent forays into the smoke pit… I've long worked HR in the food industry – and there is nothing quite like a smoke butt inadvertently tracked into the plant and getting into your ground beef or bag of corn chips, is there? All things being equal in a hiring competition, what sane employer would hire the smoker? That's just reality!

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Sergey Gorbatov February 14, 2011 at 8:57 pm

Hmm. what happened to "hire for brains" concept? dear lord, think what would happen if all of a sudden we decide to fire everyone on wall street who smokes – the stock market will crash! where are all the important decisions made? right, in the smoking room. when do you network? over a smoke break. if it does not work for you, fine, go to the gold course. but don´t put in obstacles for others. i would be happy to see internal guidelines for recruiters saying, "Do NOT hire smokers!!!" :)

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Mike C. February 14, 2011 at 10:17 pm

@Acemaster -

Thanks for ignoring the rest of the thread here.

Again I point out that this has nothing to do with smoking during the work day! We're specifically discussing people who smoke on their own time outside of work.

What I find disgusting is this drive to put people out of their homes and livelihoods simply because they smoke away from work.

"Oh gosh, I just don't like the thought of my employees doing something I don't like on their off time. I hope they find a way to feed your kids when they get fired!"

It's just reality, right?

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Acemeister February 15, 2011 at 12:21 am

@mike c.

Not ignoring the thread – just highlighting the reality. People are well able to puff their brains out at home, give the starving kids (as you note :)) a little second hand smoke, why not?

But the smokers who are able to exercise the kind of restraint it takes to not smoke during the work day are few and far between. Their smoking does have effects on attendance, productivity, benefit costs – whether it is at work, home or both.

It may be an addiction that I am aware of, but have no first hand experience with (nor empathy for), but companies should not have to pay for it.

Referring back to the original article, the quote is that smokers cost over $3K a year more than non-smokers. If that is the basis of this thread, then your contention is moot – smokers, whether smoking at work or not, cost companies more money than not. My points are commonplace and valid – and while I can appreciate your twice mentioned 'throwing the workers out of their house' sentiment, the same can be said for any self-inflicted choice, whether it be alcohol, drugs, or a racist tattoo.

This thread is not the place for a back and forth flame – but the sentiments of smokers generally ignore Elaine's comment that the second hand and smell does cause migraines, that the left-overs from smoking are enemies to the food industry, and that smokers cost more to business (excepting the tobacco sector, of course) than the same person who doesn't partake.

It's good to see a study that tells it as it is. And the debate will go on and on and on – reality be damned.

Now, I'll head home and pass by some dozen or so smokers in the company supplied unheated shack (below zero today), taking one of their extra breaks (beyond the two 20 minutes allowed in policy) beyond that of the non-smokers, and indulging in their $10 a pack, pack a day habit…

The thrust of the article was "smokers need not apply" – the reasons I mentioned are simply the "why". Cheers!

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Mike C. February 15, 2011 at 1:38 am

@Acemeister – I'm not trying to flame you, but the debate has to follow some logical rules here or nothing useful is accomplished.

Elaine's complaint was very specifically about people who smell like smoke and take smoke breaks and are acting in a lazy manner, thus they shouldn't be allowed to work. The post is about all smokers not being allowed to work due to increased insurance costs. Thus, the sentiments that Elaine suffers from migraines is a red herring here. Sure, her personal experience sucks and her management needs to do something to mitigate this issue, but it's not pertinent to the issue of all smokers not being allowed to work in the first place. Your continued comments about people dropping used cigarettes and taking extra breaks is in a similar vein – your management needs to step up and resolve the issue, not discriminate against every potential employee.

It's bad logic that I'm fighting here – I'm not arguing that smokers don't cost more or that some find it annoying, I'm arguing that an otherwise good employee shouldn't be looked over as "too expensive", because there are a ton of different choices that will make folks "too expensive".

If an employer can say, "it's a choice and it costs more", then that means logically they need to discriminate against people who don't get enough sleep, don't exercise, don't eat properly, ride a motorcycle to work, engage in travel to slightly dangerous countries, ride extreme theme park rides, eat red meat, etc. These are all personal choices and they all lead to higher insurance costs.

Don't think I'm being extreme here, heart disease and diabetes are expensive to treat. Those pills don't come cheap!

Sure, no one is doing this yet, but as we all well know, companies are always looking to increase that quarterly earnings report and will look for every means to decrease that dreaded "human resources" budget. We already see it with healthy companies laying folks off and making their remaining workforce cover the slack for free. If policies like this become the norm, it will only be a matter of time before your favorite but slightly dangerous hobby is next on the list!

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Bill January 6, 2014 at 7:23 pm

How about we stop hiring FAT people? I am offended when you sweat and stink like a fat PIG due to your weight. Let’s not hire Mothers, look at how many days they take off to care for their children. You people are a bunch of idiots

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Mike C. February 15, 2011 at 1:40 am

Also if anyone really cares, I've never smoked in my life. I just like to keep my personal life away from my work life, and feel very strongly that my boss shouldn't have the right to interfere.

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Anonymous February 15, 2011 at 2:25 pm

I'm a non-smoker and understand the sentiments of those with complaints about smokers and the smell and allergies…but I agree with Mike.

Where do we draw the line? Overweight folks cost companies a lot of money too but imagine the outcry if employers posted looking for only physically fit people?

There are other things that companies can do that while they cost money at the outset (smoking cessation programs, wellness programs, etc….) if they help people quit, can save money in the long run.

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fposte February 15, 2011 at 2:36 pm

I'm another lifelong nonsmoker who has some concerns about this. The other problem is that a lot of anecdotal support comes from confirmation bias–people don't notice the smokers who don't take smoke breaks and don't smell like smoke, so the only smokers who do get noticed perpetuate the stereotype. (And I do agree that this raises the problem of tying health insurance to the workplace in the first place.) But mostly it's the notion that companies are not only 1) choosing to hire based on health insurance risk factors in private life but 2) picking and choosing which risk factors are relevant.

After all, there are the companies who ask for 80+ hour weeks and therefore require their employees to sacrifice a certain amount of personal health to work there. Maybe they'll fire employees for complying.

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Elaine February 15, 2011 at 2:37 pm

OK, Mike, you're putting words in my mouth. I never said smokers should be thrown out into the street without any option of ever finding another job as long as they live. I never said they were lazy.

People can quit smoking, you know.

Employers do have the right to hire whomever they choose. If they choose to hire only non-smokers, then smokers can apply for work somewhere else. All employers will never stop hiring smokers. In case you're too upset to read that last sentence, here it is again: *ALL* EMPLOYERS WILL NEVER STOP HIRING SMOKERS.

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Mike C. February 15, 2011 at 4:03 pm

@Elaine -

Sorry about the "lazy" bit, that was Acemeister.

However, as you support the idea that an employer should be allowed to discriminate based on legal activities outside of work, it does mean that if such policies were accepted widely smokers would not be likely to find a job. Given the sorry state of our social safety net in the United States, they would likely be thrown out on the street. Sorry, but that's the reality of poverty in this country.

As to the Employer's "right to chose", they have no such right. In fact, there are several federal and state laws which explicitly prohibit the discrimination of several different protected classes. The basis of these laws is such that while every single employer may not participate in such discrimination, it's likely that a large enough group of employers in a geographical area will do so in such a manner as to make the difference negligible.

While smokers or meat eaters or motorcycle riders aren't protected classes, a similar logic applies. It's not a trivial exercise to move across the country if you happen to have a spouse with a job in town, or have a house that cannot be sold.

It's funny that you mention that "smokers can quit". It's an incredibly difficult process, but it can be done. The employer in question, A HOSPITAL OF ALL PLACES, most likely has access to a variety of smoking secession programs and materials. Not to mention the proper support to ensure that such programs stick. Why not simply make the smoker pay more for their health benefits, offer them the materials and then when they quit they get the normal price?

Really, this isn't about smoking at all – it's about an employer that's either too rigid or too stupid to act like a human being and find a solution that doesn't end up screwing over otherwise good potential employees.

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Anonymous February 15, 2011 at 6:14 pm

Mike pointed out that the employer is a hospital. I know the hospital implemented this policy as a way to decrease benefit expenses. I think it SHOULD be a policy but for a different reason. We have all heard about second hand smoke but fewer people have heard about third hand smoke, which is now beign widely studied by organizations like the Mayo clinic and American Cancer Society, etc. Third-hand smoke is the residue that remains on all surfaces after smoke has dissipated from the air. The amount of residue depends on the space in which the person smoked. In small spaces like cars, early studies have shown that it can take 7 + days for the particulates to disburse enough not to affect a sensitive asthmatic. If someone smokes on the way to work in their car, they are covering themselves in this residue and can actually emit this toxin onto other people. If smokers are working in a hospital, they will more than likely come into contact with patients with compromised immune systems, asthma, allergies, orbreathing issues. Children are also strongly affected due to thier size. Lead is a main toxic residue left by smoke and can contribute to lead levels built up in the blood which are highly toxic to both adults and kids, but adversly impact kids. I think hospitals have a duty to their patients to hire non-smokers because these employees can cause harm to their patients by being in close contact with them. I think day cares have the same obligation.

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Anonymous February 16, 2011 at 5:23 am

Obesity and smoking carry similar risks, but can employers discriminate against obese workers? So far, not as blatantly as they do smokers. Do they, yes of course they do.

Yes, $3k per employee is a sum to be saved, but what if the employee is truly productive and makes up for it. Who cares if he/she has a bad habit?

It all comes down to what are we getting from hiring this person – what do they deliver for the cost — not, now many 15 minute breaks do they take. Anyone who thinks like that is a myopic drone.

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Class factotum February 16, 2011 at 4:46 pm

I do not smoke. I go to the gym four times a week. I am not overweight, although if I dropped ten pounds, I could get into my skinny jeans. I do all the cooking at home from scratch – we eat very healthfully.

I do, however, get migraines. I take painkillers that cost $25 apiece retail and have tried preventive drugs that cost thousands of dollars a year. My neurologist charges $800 an hour.

Should a prospective employer be allowed to not hire me because of the medical expenses I would incur?

Watch out for that slippery slope.

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Cheryl February 22, 2011 at 3:06 am

Parts of this conversation remind me of the following quote:

“In Germany they came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews,and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the Trade Unionists and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me,and by that time no one was left to speak up”.

Ultimately it comes down to money for the businesses, right or wrong it's always the bottom line. If we allow companies to dictate how we live, what we eat, whether we exercise, etc., then soon they will have surpassed common sense just to make a buck. As we are individuals and not carbon copies of one another; it would behoove us all to stand up for the rights of being individuals, so as to not be denigrated for that very individuality.

On a side note, I smoked for 28 years and when I quit, I apparently married my fork. I totally agree with both the smokers and the non smokers, I have been in both camps…it is not a smoker issue. It is an issue of discrimination.

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Ashley Williams September 29, 2011 at 7:29 am

Thank you for such a blog and it will be inspiring to be in a smoke free world !!!!

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