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Employers within Rights to Reject Smokers

In Business, Economy, Health, Jobs, Local News, National News, Opinion, Uncategorized on January 10, 2012 at 10:52 am

By Gery L. Deer

Deer In Headlines

Recently, USA Today reported that an increasing number of employers, primarily hospitals, are imposing bans on smoking – even on personal time. More employers are rejecting applicants who test positive for any traces of nicotine in pre-employment drug screenings.

Tobacco smoke contains more than 7,000 chemical compounds. More than 250 of these chemicals are known to be harmful, and more than 60 are known to cause cancer. Regardless of the proven health risks involved however, there are an estimated 46 million smokers in the United States.

Employers of all stripes are tightening their belts just to keep the lights on. Productivity and healthcare costs can both have a major impact on the bottom line in any business. Smoking is considered an addiction caused by the nicotine contained in the tobacco – though some also attribute the problem to artificial additives. Either way, many smokers see it as their right to disrupt productivity and force non-smokers to make more expensive contributions to employer-sponsored health insurance.

Contrary to what some would like to believe smoking is not (yet) protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act or equal opportunities laws. Smoking is a choice, unlike being a paraplegic or having some other kind of legitimate disability. Smokers do not deserve special treatment any more than someone hooked on alcohol or even caffeine.

Since the anti-smoking campaigns of the 1990’s, many companies have instituted a ‘no smoke break’ rule. That doesn’t mean that people cannot smoke on their breaks. It means they have to wait and take the same number of breaks as everyone else, and rightfully so.

If a company hires someone to work, they expect the employee to honor his or her agreement to do so. In exchange they receive a paycheck, possibly health or retirement benefits, and valuable experience which may provide future opportunities.

When a worker is spending more time for smoke breaks than doing the job, however, they are costing the employer far more than they are producing, in more ways than one. Studies suggest that smokers cause a substantial increase in employer healthcare premiums and reduce earnings and productivity.

One of the earliest investigations into this issue, a 2007 study of more than 14,000 Swedish workers, was performed by Petter Lundborg, Ph.D., an economist at the Free University of Amsterdam in theNetherlands. Lundborg’s research found smokers took an average of 11 more sick days than non-smokers.

In the current state of unemployment, any individuals who would rather spend more time smoking than working should quit the job and let someone who wants to work have the position. Outside of work, however, is another matter entirely and therein lays the controversy.

Except for those working certain government or military positions, or short of criminal behavior, an employer really has very little say in what a worker does outside the office. However, smoking, alcoholism or drug abuse, have a significant effect on the overall performance of an employee and sometimes affects the public’s perception of the employer.

First is the aforementioned hike in the insurance expense caused by having smokers on the group plan. Smoking drives up the cost. No explanations required here –though many smokers see this policy as discriminatory as well, ignoring the science and economics behind it.

As for image, perception is everything. It is difficult to take seriously the advice of a healthcare professional, for example, who reeks of tobacco. It’s like a convicted felon offering legal defense strategies, “Don’t do as I do, do as I say.”

In short, Nicotine is a controlled substance. Employers have the right to refuse a job to anyone who fails their drug testing criteria. Who knows, perhaps this kind of regulations will give some die-hard smokers the motivation to finally kick the habit. There is never a down side to quitting.

Gery L. Deer is an independent columnist and business writer based in Jamestown. More at http://www.deerinheadlines.com

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