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Nicotine Free Hiring Policies?

  1. Apr 2, 2014 #1
    I wasn't really sure where to post this but GD is as good a place as any.

    I've recently come upon nicotine free hiring policies on a personal level. My wife and I are moving to a state which does not afford smoker's protection, and she is looking for work in the health care field. I may have heard about these policies before but didn't pay much attention. A few of the hospitals/institutions we looked at have this policy. They screen for drugs and nicotine and rescind employment offers if nicotine is found. Then you can't reapply for some amount of time. The policies vary of course, some just have you sign some paperwork and work mostly by the honor system. Some want to know about the employee and spouse etc.

    I'm kind of on the fence about this whole thing. While I agree from a public health perspective, I have lost faith in humanity nearly completely. No matter how great a policy or system may sound on paper, I have no doubt that humans will go and screw it up completely for personal gain, greed and other, not very noble, reasons.

    The main arguments for the policies, from what I found so far, are:

    1) Smokers cost more money in lost productivity (breaks), work absence (sick days), and health care costs (insurance and such). Obviously these factors are not independent of each other. The figures I've seen are in the neighborhood of ~1000-4000 USD per year. (See non-peer reviewed [don't ban me Evo, please?!] ref's below)

    2) For employers in the health care field, the argument follows something like, lead by example.

    I don't doubt that some people who are championing these policies have noble intentions. Smoking is a horrible habit and we really need to work to abolish the practice for good, it is not necessary and has pretty much zero positive effects with a multitude of negative effects.

    On the other hand, and tying into my comment above about humans ruining even the most well intentioned ideologies, this makes me really concerned about the power that may be wielded by employers in the future if this is allowed to proceed. This is especially true given the rationale of health promotion etc. Call me pessimistic but I foresee other lifestyle choices being targeted. Drinking on the weekends? Well that's high risk, you may come down with some liver problems or get beat up in a drunken melee. Do you eat McDonald's for lunch multiple times per week? Uh oh, sorry pal we can't keep you on the job with such risky behavior. Body mass index not in the appropriate range? Sorry, no work for you. Basically the good ol' slippery slope argument.

    I haven't dug very deeply into this issue at all, just a quick google search for news articles and such. I'll have some more time in the next few days since I'll just be high on opiates and just completely miserable after my 2nd round of oral surgery.

    I don't know what stance to take. I agree with the spirit and such but don't have much faith in the reality and consequences of such policies. Any other opinions?

    Some of the news, blogs etc stuff I've read:



    http://www.forces.org/Archive/articles/371-Workplace+Nicotine+Testing.html (NB: I can't make heads or tails of what this FORCES organization is actually all about, it may be heavily biased so reader beware).

    Here is an example of the policy from a health care employer. It is somewhat reasonable IMO but short sighted.
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 2, 2014 #2


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    I do know that some health insurance will give price breaks if you are a non-smoker, that could mean a lot of money to an employer. While it seems unfair that they can refuse to hire people based on drug use, and I guess nicotine is now included (I had never heard of that), nicotine is a drug, it seems employers rights are expanding, I don't have a problem with that. Many companies will not hire you if you have a criminal record, even if it was one offense years ago. An employer should have rights as to the risks it wishes to assume with an employee. As far as discrimination based on things which do not pose a risk/cost such as sex, race, etc... I do not approve. Although, women of childbearing age do pose a larger risk/cost than men of the same age group, and I have noticed women making less money than males in the same job.

    Maybe a fair compromise is that if you have a higher risk/cost factor that you won't get paid at the same level, and this actually does go on quietly.
    Last edited: Apr 2, 2014
  4. Apr 2, 2014 #3

    Ivan Seeking

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    I agree 100%. And throw smart toilets in the mix and your employer and insurance company can actively monitor your diet and lifestyle down to your allowed choice of desserts after dinner.

    I believe the line of reasoning that employers should have infinite access and control over personal choices made off the job is the ultimate slippery slope. It essentially removes the right of choice and privacy. If you want to function in society then your employer becomes your mother.

    I do think salary offsets are reasonable when personal choices can be definitively linked to lost production or increased costs. But I don't think anyone should be required to pass a Twinkie Test in order to get a job, which is what I see as the natural evolution of events here.
  5. Apr 2, 2014 #4
    I have to say that I can see some kind of higher premium or something but simply eliminating a class of people due to one habit/factor sounds too close to big brother/nanny state/what-have-you.

    What about chronically sleep deprived individuals who stay up all night playing video games, partying or on social media? There are health consequences and productivity losses their as well, just not easily quantified. I'm not defending smokers by any stretch of the imagination, but this just seems absurd at best and dangerous at worst. Partaking in a completely legal activity should never be grounds for outright elimination of a major fraction of potential employees. It is just 'easy' with smokers because of the data that is out there. Wait until a decade or two pass and we have similar amounts of data about all the other, perfectly legal, but poor health choices that people make in day to day life.

    I'm no longer on the fence about this, I think this is outright wrong and goes against personal freedom with the potential to become a very bad situation.
  6. Apr 4, 2014 #5


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    Any private employer should be able to decide what qualifications the job their offering requires. In the same way that you cannot craft a law that forces someone to work for another person (i.e. slavery) you cannot craft a law that forces someone to hire another person.

    Any public employer should probably only be free to limit employment based on the laws of the land. If nicotine is an illegal in your country, then I think that's a fair limitation.

    EDIT: And when I say a private employer should be able to decide the qualifications, I actually do mean they should be able to. Likewise they should be able to offer the wage and benefits package they feel makes the job simultaneously worth filling and worth having filled.


    I assume you're talking about a government job. Agreed 100%!!
    Last edited: Apr 4, 2014
  7. Apr 11, 2014 #6


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  8. Apr 11, 2014 #7


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    That's a bunch of unsubstantiated hand waving.


    Nice try though. Also, New Scientist is terrible about posting somewhat misleading articles and not linking to the exact study. They only vaguely make reference.

    Lol, they have a dating site.
  9. Apr 11, 2014 #8


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    I find it odd how its a Nicotine test instead of something that specifically targets smokers. If I remember correctly isn't Nicotine far from the most harmful substances in a cigarette? I mean, for those people without oral fixation problems but do need to constantly take Nicotine injections or tablets, I don't think they are harmful to anyone unless they have the tendency to pick up a cigarette again.
  10. Apr 12, 2014 #9
    I agree that an employer should be able to set requirements related to the job however it really is a very big grey area if smoking has any true impact on productivity or job performance etc. Also I'm not arguing about the legality of this practice (in the USA). It is perfectly legal as smokers are not a protected class in the eyes of federal law so they "cannot" be discriminated against (in the eyes of the law). Private and public employers are not allowed to have outright policies excluding, for example, women/minorities from the workforce as gender/race/ethnicity is protected under federal discrimination laws. In today's world it seems common sense but 100 years ago companies saw fit to exclude such groups because they were also deemed "inferior" in some aspect related to productivity and such.

    I am more concerned about the morality/ethics or whatever of the situation. Laws and morality are not necessarily congruent as history has shown many times in the past. I will really re-iterate that if these policies are allowed to be enacted unperturbed we are going down a slippery slope where employers can potentially wield a ton of power regarding how people are allowed to live their lives'. [strike]This is entirely anti-American IMO.[/strike]

    Another opinion I have, which is shared by some in the blogosphere and internet in general, is that these policies are truly a product of present economic times. Ten years ago health care institutions were so short of employees, with enough budget to pay for more, that a policy like this would be laughed at (IMO). At present there is so much demand for work that employers can do whatever they really feel like in their hiring practices. When the tables turn again (fingers crossed) there will be changes (conjecture).
    Last edited: Apr 12, 2014
  11. Apr 12, 2014 #10


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    I think you need to read some history. At one time it was commonplace in England for employers to pay wages not in money but in tokens, which could only be spent at the company's own shop, to buy poor quality goods at inflated prices. A quick google search shows the same practice existed in some industries in USA.

    And I'm sure that no American employers in the past were ever unreasonable about wielding a ton of power over employees who were literally bought and sold, rather than hired.
  12. Apr 12, 2014 #11
    Apologies if that comment implied some kind of holier than thou attitude regarding American employers, historically or otherwise. These practices were pretty much global as far as I know during the Industrial Revolution, for example. In fact, America was one of the last nations in the world to outlaw slavery. So there's that.

    Forget the American comment, I've edited the post to take focus away from that comment. I guess my comments can be attributed to the global community, but I don't know of any policies such as this nicotine business being done in other western nations. That doesn't mean they don't exist, I just don't know of them.
    Last edited: Apr 12, 2014
  13. Apr 12, 2014 #12


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    But there is at least one condition that smoking does appear to help: ulcerative colitis. Bolding mine:


    Now, for the vast majority of people with UC, it isn't worth it to take up smoking because it can be controlled with meds*. But there are folks who suffer horribly and for whom the meds don't work, and may need to have their colon removed. For those people, the patch (or e-cigs?) might offer a better alternative.

    But more on topic: this is a good example why health insurance should be uncoupled from employment. And if someone chooses to take up a habit or lifestyle that puts them at higher risk for health problems, *that person* should have to pay higher insurance premiums - not their employer.

    *The cost of these meds? $1000 per month during a flare-up, $500 a month for the "maintenance" dose.
  14. Apr 17, 2014 #13


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    That's ridiculous.

    Just do this at the interview lol:

  15. Apr 21, 2014 #14


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    Maybe this will force people to stop smoking. The bad thing however is that it might lead to further unemployment among some people, in particular the underprivileged.
  16. Apr 22, 2014 #15
    So you agree that employers should have the right to examine your personal life and, somewhat arbitrarily, base their employment offers on your habits which are neither illegal nor have been shown to have direct* consequences to your productivity.

    *Let's say relative to other detrimental habits.
  17. Apr 22, 2014 #16


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    Employers making decisions based on risks due to employee behavior is nothing new. The insurance savings to employers is reason enough. Complain about the insurance companies if you don't think they should reduce insurance costs for non-smokers. This has nothing to do with an employer "examing your personal life" or other such paranoia, it's about costs. I'm sure most employers couldn't care less what you do if it doesn't impact them financially, they have a business to run.
  18. Apr 22, 2014 #17


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    No, I think it's a bit excessive. I'm fine with employers wanting to know about you personally, but medical exams such as this should be warranted for the job. If they heavily rely on your physical fitness for example.
  19. Apr 22, 2014 #18
    There already are ways for this to happen by the way.

    Can and Should You Link Health Insurance Rates and Smoking?

    The Smokers’ Surcharge

    It appears that there are many organizations, and even laws, which see the pitfalls in allowing employers to determine what is okay to do with one's free time.

    Also I am not talking about what the HR rep or interviewer does behind closed doors regarding employment offers. I'm talking an outright policy disallowing the hiring of a substantial fraction of a population based on some pretty slippery logic. We are talking urine testing for nicotine during the physical and drug test etc. Should we then allow IP monitoring for gamers who are chronically sleep deprived should companies decide to make that their next target to "make people healthier" ?

    I am completely fine with that, if it has a direct bearing on your work then that is one thing but otherwise it is a slippery slope if we allow employers to dictate, outright, what is and isn't okay to do in your personal time. Examination of anyone's life will reveal habits that are correlated with some poor outcomes regarding health, productivity etc. but employers should have no say what you do when you are off the clock.
    Last edited: Apr 22, 2014
  20. Apr 22, 2014 #19


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    Free time? Would you be ok with an employer hiring a smoker and then forbidding him from smoking during the workday?

    Anyway, that first link of yours gave some pretty direct stats about how smoking (free time or not) impacts worker productivity.
  21. Apr 22, 2014 #20
    Well I would be okay with limiting breaks and such. I consider things like breaks for lunch and whatnot personal time. If a company forbids taking extra breaks I wouldn't be morally opposed to such.

    My argument has nothing to do with smoking's detrimental impact on health. That is not an area of contention, at least for myself. The data is clearly out there and any Google-master can find a plethora of evidence at all levels regarding smoking. I am more concerned with the idea that companies can be allowed to have outright policies prohibiting employment of a fraction of a population based on creating a "healthier workplace" or whatever. Where do we draw the line? Are weekend binge drinkers okay?1 Are gamers who play until 3am on a Monday night okay?2 Poor posture?3 Alcohol consumption, sleep deprivation and back problems are also medical issues with potential productivity losses and increased medical bills (vide infra).

    I have read of a quote in some news article (which I can't find at the moment) where a director of some medical center stated that he wouldn't hire people with high BMI's either. We all have unhealthy habits of some sort, where do we draw the line of which unhealthy habit is okay and which isn't? Is it just the one that you don't partake in?

    2. CDC state data shows high costs due to excessive alcohol us

    2. Sleep Deprivation And Productivity: Harvard Professor Explains Need For Shift Schedule Change I know this is about shift workers and such, I'm getting at the point of sleep deprivation and productivity.

    3. The Cost of Pain to Business and Society Due to Ineffective Pain Care
  22. Apr 22, 2014 #21


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    Again, I will point out that there is a direct cost savings to employers form insurance companies for non-smokers. That is all a company cares about. If insurance companies gave discounts for employees that didn't drink, I would expect that employers would make the same rules for non-drinkers. It's only about the money, they're not wanting to know what you do personally, they don't care until it hits their bottom line.

    If a drinker misses work due to drinking, they will end up either being fired for attendance or being passed over for raises and/or promotions. Same goes for an obese worker.
  23. Apr 22, 2014 #22


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    I don't believe for a second any company really cares about a "healthier workplace" in and of itself. The issue is money. Smokers cost more money to employ and are less productive.
    Are any productivity loss and medical care expense increases due to those well documented and is the activity easily measurable? In acute cases, yes, I've seen people disciplined/fired for falling asleep on the job and absolutely support it.
    I don't think there is a line.

    How about a healthy practice that is nevertheless disruptive? If I exercise at 4:30 before going to work and arrive tired and lethargic, that should be actionable as well.
  24. Apr 23, 2014 #23
    We're not talking about performance on the job which I have no problem with, morally. If a worker is not performing at a certain level then they face the consequences, regardless of the reason. Do you have issues with the pregnancy protection afforded to women? Would you be in favor of a pregnancy test being given to women in the hypothetical case of a lack of pregnancy discrimination laws?

    These policies, however, are not the same as penalizing workers for lower productivity on the job. They are eliminating the possibility of employment altogether and using urine nicotine tests as predictors for future productivity.

    Agreed but there exist mechanisms to minimize cost of smokers without having discriminatory policies. And again, I don't really care about smokers in particular. I care more about the dangerous precedent that is set when employers are allowed to dictate which legal activities employees are allowed to partake in, in their free time.

    I'd bet IP monitoring (for gamers), posture assessment (for future risk assessment) during the physical and/or health record investigation (for history of pain etc) can be implemented just as easily as nicotine drug testing, and are likely much cheaper overall.

    You're allowed your opinion, let's agree to disagree.

    Again, the issue is not performance on the job. Yes if you are doing something that consistently disrupts your work performance there should be consequences. A more fitting analogy is a potential employer requesting log-in records from your gym and rescinding employment opportunities if you have a history of getting into the gym at 4:30am.

    If you guys have no qualms about allowing employers unfettered access to the personal lives' of potential employees, then we can just agree to disagree. I have a huge problem with it. We are replacing governmental Big Brother with a corporate one. I do not, for one second, have any faith left in humanity as a whole and have serious problems with allowing corporations, and other large institutions, free reign over policies aimed at improving the bottom line at all costs. I think our present economic climate is an excellent example of where that leads.
  25. Apr 23, 2014 #24
    Whatever the reason, if it is not discriminatory based on race or sex or sexual orientation or any of those ethical factors, then a private company should be able to hire by whatever criteria they believe is proper for their business. If they don't want smokers because they believe that their business will do better if their employees don't smoke (or take smoke breaks), then they shouldn't be told they can't do that.

    Why should a line be drawn for behaviors? That's what interviews are for. As long as the company isn't basing their hiring (or not) on issues like race or sex and rather base their decisions on behavioral traits, then I don't see what the problem is. Smoking is a choice (however addictive it is), they are not a protected group because they are a group which chooses their habit. If you want the job, quit smoking. I'm sure you're ok with employers drug testing their employees to ensure they are not using drugs even in their downtime due to perceived/assumed residual effects.

    While it's surely a risk that employers may overstep their bounds, they also need people to work for them. As the amount of activity you restrict goes higher, the number of good employees you can hire decreases. They need to strike a balance.

    Employers already look at public profiles (facebook and the like) to determine if the potential employee has any bad habits. If it's legal to monitor a person's IP, then I don't see why that's an issue if the company thinks that gamers will provide a lower value to their company than non-gamers.

    Nobody would apply for work at a company like this. At least nobody that would improve the value of the company. That's why policies like this are unlikely.
  26. Apr 23, 2014 #25


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    Lots of people work for companies that require security clearance. If they are naive enough to think the checks stop after they get the clearance, that's their mistake. If you regularly hang out somewhere at 4.30 am, assume that eventually somebody will check up on who you are hanging out with, and they don't need to ask your permission first. You signed away your rights to privacy for the rest of your life when you applied for the initial security check.

    That's not just a hypothetical assumption - but I would have to shoot myself if I put any evidence of specific cases on an internet forum, of course :smile:
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