Tuesday, September 04, 2007

More than 6,000 U.S. Employers Refuse to Hire Smokers

According to a recent article in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, at least 6,000 U.S. employers refuse to hire smokers, and the number may be even higher than that.

The article states that "in recent years a growing number of firms nationwide have decided that allowing employees to smoke only outdoors is not enough. At least 6,000 employers refuse to hire smokers, according to the National Workrights Institute, an affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union or ACLU. Jeremy Gruber, a spokesman for the group's New Jersey affiliate, said the figure is probably higher. 'That was an old survey,' Gruber said recently. 'It has become far more prevalent.'"

The article explains that: "At private companies, economics, not surprisingly, is the driving force behind the growth in anti-smoking regulations, with savings on health care as a primary reason. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that it cost the nation $3,383 a year for every smoker. That breaks down to $1,760 in lost productivity and $1,623 in medical bills."

One such company is Orland Beach, Florida-based The Homac Companies, a designer, manufacturer, and distributor of electrical connectors. If you click on the Careers link looking for a position with the company, you will be greeted by the message "Tobacco Free Candidates Only." Even if you are just looking for an internship with Homac, you are also greeted by the message "Tobacco Free Candidates Only."

Homac's mission is "to be a premier manufacturer and supplier of Electric Power Delivery Connectors and Cable Accessories; we are committed to world class performance as demonstrated by continuous improvement in safety, innovation, quality, cost, flexibility, and customer satisfaction."

The Rest of the Story

This is a great example of blatant employment discrimination. Whether one smokes or not, or uses smokeless tobacco or not, has no relevance to one's qualifications for a job making and selling quality electrical connectors and accessories. Can you tell me in what way an employee's smoking status affects his ability to design, develop, make, distribute, or sell an aluminum bus support bolt circle height adapter or a #4 - 250 AAC bolted aluminum cable?

If anything, this job discrimination makes it more difficult and less likely that Homan will be able to produce quality bolted aluminum cables because they are automatically precluding from potential employment about 20% of the population, which undoubtedly includes some of the most qualified candidates for such a job.

Tobacco use status of an employee also has no relation to the Homan Companies mission. How does whether an employee smokes or not in the privacy of his or her own home affect the company's mission of being a premier manufacturer and supplier of electric power delivery connectors and cable accessories?

Perhaps I could understand if this were a company whose mission was to provide smoking cessation services to addicted smokers, but how does my smoking status affect my ability to make electrical connectors?

Perhaps more importantly, what right does my employer have to even inquire about my lawful personal behavior in my own home, if it is not directly related either to a bona fide job requirement or to the company's mission?

One might argue that the employer has the right to ask about my tobacco use in my home because he wants to reduce health care costs and he believes that my health care costs may be higher if I am a smoker. The problem is that if the invasion of my privacy about my own personal lifestyle is justified in order for the employer to reduce his health care costs, then the employer is also perfectly at liberty to ask me about my diet, the number of times I exercise each week, how much I weigh, and various aspects of my sexual behavior (limited only, in some states, by questions related to my sexual orientation).

For example, the company would be perfectly justified in greeting potential job applicants with the message "Fat People Need Not Apply," "One Sexual Partner Applicants Only," or "Applicants without Children Under Five Years Old Only."

My argument here is that not only is this blatant discrimination, but it is an undue invasion of individual privacy. Can you imagine having to fill out a questionnaire about all of your personal health habits, including your diet, physical activity, hours of sun exposure, use of sunscreen, use of seat belts, and sexual behavior before even being allowed to apply for a job?

It's pretty obvious to me that such a questionnaire would represent an undue, and obnoxious, invasion of privacy. So why then is it not similarly an inappropriate invasion of privacy to ask about my tobacco use history?

The answer is simple: it is an inappropriate invasion of privacy to ask about my tobacco use off-the-job, unless it is directly related either to the job requirements or to the company mission.

The failure of any U.S. anti-smoking groups to speak out against this widespread employment discrimination and invasion of privacy is unfortunate, and it illustrates the "end justifies the means" mentality of the modern anti-smoking movement.

Sure - discriminating against smokers and interfering with their privacy may help to lower smoking rates and save employers money. But it is inappropriate and has no place in public health. Anti-smoking groups should be ashamed of themselves for failing to speak out strongly against this obnoxious practice.

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