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Will Smoking Cost You Your Job?

It’s simple economics. It costs employers more to keep a smoker on board than a non-smoker. And ObamaCare doesn’t change that. Indeed, it may make it even easier for employers to calculate what employees who smoke cost them – not just in terms of increased absenteeism, but even more directly, in terms of increased premium.

A provision in the new health care law, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, expressly allows insurers to charge employers much more for people on group health care plans who are smokers.

The natural result: Widespread discrimination against smokers.

Is discrimination legal?

From time to time I hear people, when confronted with some tale of some perceived workplace injustice gasp “that’s discrimination!” and assume that just because a company’s personnel decision may involve discrimination it must be illegal. That is simply not the case.

Yes. Discrimination is legal, except where that discrimination screens applicants and employees out based on membership in a specific class designated by law. Nationally, federal law protects employees and job applicants against discrimination on the basis of race, creed, religion, sex, national origin, or veterans status. The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) further protects those with physical or developmental disabilities, provided they are capable of safely doing the job with reasonable accommodation. That’s it.

State law may add some additional protected classes to those listed under federal law – such as gays, lesbians and transgenders.

Beyond that, though, company’s discriminate all the time. For example, they discriminate against those with felony records, drug addicts, the lazy, the incompetent, drunks, those who are habitually tardy and those known to steal office supplies. And yes, the also routinely discriminate against the overweight.

There is nothing in federal law that prohibits companies from discriminating against smokers, though some 29 states have passed legislation restricting the practice. In reality, though, where smoker discrimination lawsuits have been filed, the courts have generally ruled in favor of the company, not the smoker.

According to John Banzhaf, a law professor at George Washington University and one of the architects of differential premiums for smokers going back to the 1980s, every employee who smokes costs the employer “more than $10,000 in additional expenses that are ‘totally unnecessary”.

Some employers have actually overtly banned even off-the-job smoking, including the World Health Organization, Scotts Miracle-Gro, the City of Atlantic Beach, Florida, Crown Laboratories and the Cleveland Clinic.

Expect employers to take heed of those costs.

If, during the interview process, you let slip that you are a smoker, you will do yourself no favors. What are the tells?
• Yellow nicotine-stained fingernails.
• Smell of tobacco. Smokers can’t smell it, but it’s very noticeable to non-smokers within a few feet.
• A glimpse of a pack of cigarettes or a lighter in your purse or pockets.
• Being sighted in the parking lot, grabbing a quick smoke before or after your interview.

For your state’s specific laws regarding smoker discrimination in the workplace, click here.

What should you do?
• Quit smoking. Geez. How many hints do you need?
• Don’t smoke prior to your job interview. The smell’s a giveaway.
• Wash your hands thoroughly before the interview.
• Don’t smoke, even if your interviewer invites you for a smoke.

The job market is tough. There’s no need to make it tougher. Smoking is plenty tough on your wallet, too, all by itself. If you just lost your job, you can perhaps take advantage of the change in routine to break the smoking habit. Seize the day. Carpe diem.

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8 Responses to Will Smoking Cost You Your Job?

  1. Sue says:

    You can add Vanguard Health Systems, headquartered in Nashville, TN, to that list of employers that, as of September 15, 2012, have instituted a new policy throughout their organization that they are a nicotine free employer. They have implemented a pre-employment, medical test that anyone applying for a job will need to take. If it comes back that someone is a smoker, they will not be hired. This policy includes all nicotine products including the patch, gum and the battery operated simulated cigarette. The company does support quitting smoking programs for current employees but I’m not sure how it will work now because of the ban on the products used to help; gum, patch and the battery cigarette. The company owns medical centers and hospitals and has taken the stance that if you smoke you need not apply. Whether I agree or not with the decision, or, if whether or not all of the “legal discrimination” will eventually be over turned or fought, I don’t know.. In my opinion, for health reasons, both physically and emotionally, people should make the decision to quit on their own. It is much easier to be successful when it is a decision a person makes vs doing it feeling as though it is being forced on them.

  2. Kathleen Braddy says:

    You are correct. Where I now am employed, your insurance will cost you more if you are a smoker. If no, we had to sign an attestment that we are a non-smoker, and they will be testing!

  3. Thanks very much for the information and the feedback.

    Just purely anecdotally, it does seem to be healh care industry employers leading the way on this issue. I haven’t done any kind of formal data gathering, but I just wrote another piece on obesity discrimination which should be up shortly, and it seems that a much larger percentage of companies that do this than one would expect are hospitals or operate in related industries.

    I would therefore suggest that if you want to work in health care, it is extra important to stop smoking, if you smoke, and drop those pounds. These companies may never even tell you they’re discriminating. You just won’t get a callback and may never know why.

    See also my article: “Between Jobs? –> Get Back In Shape” article from last year.

    Jason

  4. Veronica Jaeger says:

    Ditto for my employer. We have to enter our status as a smoker or nonsmoker as part of our benefit / insurance selection form each year.

  5. Karen Watson says:

    Here too. I work for a state agency and we have had the increased premiums for smokers for several years. Not only for smokers, but if there are smokers in the family.

  6. Katherine Farias says:

    I think it depends on the company. I know smoking is a habit and people must set outside often to smoke. Most employers aren’t keen on that. Not only that, smokers are sicker more often, this affects health insurance and premiums,and they tend to be out of work more often. Just the facts. No judgement.

  7. Wendy Johnson says:

    Where I work you have to sign a release stating that you “are not a smoker” and “have not smoked tobacco products for the past 12 months”. But, I’m finding there are other companies that have adopted the policy.

  8. Walker Rugino says:

    I think that this is intrusive, interfering and I’m not sure I’d want to work in such a rigid environment (speaking of dress-down Fridays).

    My last job that just ended had no dress code apart from common decency, and it is fairly generally respected. So Fridays is no different than any other day in the salt mine.

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