January 26, 2009
Employers to job seekers: Smokers need not apply?
I'm not a smoker. Nor am I a fan of breathing in other people's smoke. But I found this news report on Friday particularly disturbing:
"Smoking bans in public buildings, workplaces and at some outdoor venues are commonplace. Becoming more common is the practice of barring smokers from employment. But this approach is unfair and may have unintended consequences that do more harm than good, researchers say in an essay published in the journal Tobacco Control."
The authors of the essay, one of them with the University of Washington, argue that "a widespread adoption of such policies might make smokers nearly unemployable, cause them to lose their health insurance and affect their health and that of their families."
It's one thing to offer programs -- and even financial incentives -- to encourage employees to lead healthier lives. But as Friday's article argues, if we start blacklisting workers who smoke (in those few public areas they're still permitted to smoke in), where does the discrimination end?
How soon before employers start banning overweight people or folks with gray hair from the workplace for fear that they'll cost more to insure, call in sick more, or won't perform as well as their thinner, younger counterparts?
(Okay, okay, we all know such discrimination is alive and well. But at least there are laws against this sort of thing, which in many cases, serves as a deterrent.)
Consider this comment left by a reader of the original article on SeattleTimes.com:
"If and when I own my own business, I won't hire someone who I know is a smoker. It's not just about the medical costs. Smokers tend to smell like smoke, and they take more breaks than non-smoking workers. I don't want to pay them to take a smoking break every 1-2 hours."
Unless a candidate walks into the interview reeking of smoke (bad idea) or the employer spies on them in the parking lot after the interview (equally bad idea), how would an employer know the candidate smokes? And is it really any of their business?
Also, if a smoker makes up the time spent on smoking breaks by staying at their desk an extra 30 minutes a day, who cares? As long as an employee is productive overall, is heading out to the parking lot for a smoke several times a day really any different than hitting the company coffee cart (and subsequently, the loo) throughout the day?
What do you think?
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
Paul Anderson helps professionals in transition find their desired employment.
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