Workplace Restrictions: Should Employers Reject Candidates Who Smoke?

jason-harris.jpg  WWS contributor

  Lifestyle blogger based out of Chicago.


Smoking has been known for being a harmful habit for decades. It is not news that those who smoke might face some serious health problems. For example, smokers are advised not to communicate with small children a lot, because they may expose the kids to second-hand smoke, which can harm the physical health and mental development of young children.

At the same time, there are some less publicized perceived advantages smokers get out of this habit. Some smokers enjoy the opportunity to socialize with other smokers and establish the right contacts that might be important for either work or personal life.

Smokers also tend to be more adventurous and have more friends at work. They even have better relationships with bosses who smoke, because they at least have one common hobby.

Moreover, in the workplace, smokers have said that the smoking breaks they get serve to make their working life more eventful and help to avoid (or postpone) monotony and burnout.

However, more and more employers now refuse to allow smoking during working hours. Why is that an issue now as opposed to previous decades?



The reason for refusal: Is there any real reasons?


The question primarily has to do with money: smoking may undermine the employer’s earning power. It sounds ridiculous, but let us examine that reason closely.

Firstly, smoking requires a special place. A person cannot smoke in public areas, in the office, or in a public convenience. It does not matter whether an employee uses the usual cigarette, nicotine-containing vape pen or a vape pen for e-liquid (find out this here); other people have to be ‘fenced out’ of the smoking area.

That means that an office should be at least three-four square meters larger to contain a smoking room. Such a room means higher bills for office lease and less place for the manufacture or office workers. In addition, it needs special fan system, furniture, and more.

Secondly, smoking can decrease productivity, which also means extra expenses for employers. Studies show that employers are forced to bear a hidden cost burden of more than $200 billion annually because of lost productive time.

When you compare a non-smoking employee who performs his or her duties until lunch break to a smoker who takes frequent short breaks for smoking on average every two hours, the difference becomes evident. If someone works less hours, they're likely to be less productive.

However, add the fact that after (or before) smoking such an employee would have a cup of espresso, and the rate of presenteeism (reduced productivity while being present at work) can contribute to high indirect costs for employers.

In addition, a smoker would not leave the smoking room immediately upon finishing smoking. It is more likely that they would wait for their colleague who is also there smoking. They will engage in small talk, boasting about the performance of their favorite sports teams or the new vape pen they tried during the weekend. You get the picture.

Thirdly, medical expenses also matter. The need to pay higher insurance premiums just because your employee smokes does not seem reasonable. Now, when even the best vape pens today are on the list of tobacco products, it is difficult for employers to avoid higher insurance premiums.

Some studies actually prove that nicotine consumption leads to serious health problems, ranging from respiratory diseases to heart disease, high blood pressure and reproductive ailments. The other employees – who are non-smokers – also suffer as they may unintentionally become second-hand smokers and acquire health issues as well.

Additionally, employers reject smoking employees on grounds that it's not environmentally friendly. There are concerns smoking could be contributing to environmental pollution to some degree. Still, in some jobs smoking is even more risky or inappropriate, for instance – a nursery teacher.

While the reasons for rejecting workers who smoke may be understandable and clear, you would still ask whether it is legal to do so. Are smokers being unfairly targeted?



Hot debate: are smokers discriminated?


When recruiting, employers have traditionally found various odd requirements to hire someone along with the usual ones. Today, however, it’s becoming more and more common for employers to require the potential employee to be a non-smoker. And people react to such demands differently: some just start looking for another position; others are filled with anger and indignation because they feel deprived of their rights and equal employment opportunity.

A refusal to hire someone who is a smoker might look like sound business decision for the employers, but it certainly feels like a violation of some sort to the smoker. Defending your point of view as a smoker seems to be difficult in this situation.

In the United States, it is generally agreed that a refusal to hire a smoker is not a fundamental violation or act of discrimination. The winning argument is simple: smoking is a conscious choice a person makes, and giving it up is the best solution to the issue of perceived targeting of smokers. It might be difficult psychologically to quit smoking in order to move forward professionally, but many former smokers prove that it is possible.

The argument that smoking is a choice and employers have a right to impose their own policies and regulations regarding smoking in the workplace makes sense considering that your age, race, sex, religion, or handicap is (almost always) not optional—it’s inherited from birth, while smoking is an acquired habit that is the result of your own conscious choice. 

Many states, however, have some laws that protect smokers from discrimination, but due to the health hazards related to smoking and the need to protect non-smokers from second-hand smoke, smokers are not completely protected in the same way that non-smokers are. For example, smokers are not a protected class under federal anti-discrimination laws.

Also, while state laws protecting smokers from discrimination may exist, the employers’ specific policies and regulations regarding smoking in private workplaces that are challenged in courts are usually upheld—like policies on a total ban on smoking in indoor workplaces.

A few states have NO laws restricting smoking at all at work.


The way out: does it exist?


According to the conflict management theory, collaborating is a “win-win” strategy for resolving disagreements. People can choose how to cooperative and how assertive to be in the debate and conflict about smoking in the workplace.

So, in the case of a total ban on smoking policy in the workplace, a way to find a compromise and collaborate to get advantages for both the employee who smokes and employer who rejects the habit would be to, say, make arrangements for the employee to work from home. For sure, that is not always possible, and it requires good planning and a lot of compromise.

Employers may limit the time that an employee spends with his or her favorite cigarette or even best vape pen and encourage all employees to quit smoking altogether. The employee, in turn, might compromise and leave their cigarettes and vape pens at home.

Moreover, if you and all the employees are smokers, you could organize special breaks for smoking and conduct team building activities and practices at the said time. Win-win.


Ultimately, there is always a way to compromise, but not all employers intend to do so. If you know that your desired workplace has specific limits or a ban on smoking, perhaps it’s better to give up smoking or relegate smoking to off-hours. The brutal truth is that you might not be hired if you are a smoker in today’s job market unless you do that.

Jason Harris is a lifestyle blogger based out of Chicago. He writes about the healthy way of life (healthy food, sports, motivation etc.) Now he studies vaping as an alternative for people who are struggling with smoking.