Many organizations describe themselves as ‘Equal Opportunity Employers,’ and job applicants take comfort in knowing they are judged on their qualifications alone, without fear of discrimination. Some employers, however, have decided that keeping smokers out of the workplace is now an acceptable form of discrimination. This act of determining what employees can and can’t do in their personal lives is unfair, and should be halted.
It is not the employer’s place to regulate how their employees behave when not at work. Like it or not, anyone over the age of 18 in the United States can legally buy and smoke cigarettes. Smoking should be treated no differently than alcohol consumption in this respect: if it isn’t being done in the work place and doesn’t affect an employee’s performance, then employers should leave well enough alone. Testing employees for nicotine in the same manner as one would be tested for drugs is a shameful violation of privacy.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2008 that nearly one out of every five adults is a smoker, and they need jobs. Granted, smokers should take responsibility for their decision to start smoking, but an addiction to tobacco is not something that can be quit instantaneously at the request of an employer.
Understandably, the organizations that decide to go after employees who smoke are motivated by financial reasons. Smokers raise a company’s health care costs because of the health issues they are likely to encounter in the future as a result of smoking. However, hiring or not firing an employee simply because he or she smokes is too extreme of a measure. At the very least, employers should show some compassion and offer smokers assistance in quitting. If companies are not willing to sacrifice their bottom line to get a smoker to quit, then they could force smokers to cover the extra cost of their health insurance compared to that of a nonsmoker. Both of these options are preferable to kicking tobacco addicts to the curb in the middle of a recession.
‘ Smokers end up paying for their decision to start smoking through the future medical consequences and the social stigma that comes with the habit, but it is irresponsible to deny them work. There are always exceptions to the idea that discrimination in all its forms is a bad policy, but refusing to hire or even firing qualified employees because of a lifestyle choice is not one of these exceptions.