Smoking: A Drag for Job Applicants?

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This post is in partnership with Knowledge@Wharton, the online research and business analysis journal of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. The article below was originally published at knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu.

Smokers need not apply — or need to quit — if they want to be hired at a southern Delaware hospital, one of a growing number of employers to ban the practice among prospective staff members. Overwhelming evidence about the health risks of smoking have turned laws and public sentiment against the habit, but Wharton experts note that such policies raise questions about how far employers should be able to go in regulating employees’ behavior in and out of the office.

Lewes, Del.-based Beebe Medical Center recently announced that beginning January 1, it will no longer hire people who smoke cigarettes or use other forms of tobacco, telling local newspaper theCape Gazette that the initiative is part of an effort to make the local community the healthiest in the country. It would also likely lower the hospital’s insurance premiums, Wharton health care management professor Kevin Volpp says, which is one reason health systems across the country have taken similar measures.

“There is no question that, over time, this will lead to a significant reduction in the number of employees who smoke,” Volpp notes. “There are serious concerns among employers about high and rising health costs. Not hiring smokers is one way for employers to lower their future health costs. It won’t directly improve societal health — unless so many employers start doing this that people quit smoking because of employment concerns –but it will improve the bottom line for employers who” take this step.

The policy at Beebe won’t affect those who currently work there (although the hospital does offer smoking cessation programs to employees.) But job candidates will be tested for nicotine as part of the hospital’s routine pre-employment screening. “If someone reaches the level on the nicotine test that is considered nicotine use by the drug testing company, then we would not be hiring that individual,” Katherine Halen, Beebe’s vice president of human resources, told the Cape Gazette. Prospective employees who are ruled out due to the no-tobacco policy would be given information about smoking cessation programs and would be eligible to reapply in six months.

(MORE: 5 Reasons Your Top Employee Isn’t Happy)

Although 29 states and Washington, D.C. have laws that protect smokers’ rights, an increasing number of employers — including health systems such as the Cleveland Clinic, but also two Ohio casinos –  have implemented policies to keep tobacco users out of the workplace. (Delaware, where Beebe is located, has no such law.)

“Some health care employers have argued that they are not hiring smokers because their patients complain about the smell of smoke on the clothes of employees, which, if you are admitted with asthma or are lying on a gurney, might not be appealing,” Volpp points out. “Those concerns would not apply to other bad habits, and it is not clear how far employers will go in adopting such measures to reduce future benefit costs.”

Laws have been passed across the country to ban smoking in public places and within the halls of private employers, and many smokers “have gotten kind of used to feeling like they’re a little bit on the outside,” says Wharton management professor Adam Cobb. “Going to Europe and imposing a ban like this would probably be a nightmare, but in this country, you probably could do it because the norms are established that smoking isn’t particularly cool.”

But Cobb wonders how far hospitals and other employers will push the line. “Irrespective of smoking, is this something that firms should be dictating or legislating?” he asks. “I’m assuming part of the goal is to lower insurance costs, but what about people who engage in risky hobbies, such as mountain climbing or hang-gliding? They’re not doing anything to penalize those people.”

Many employers have also imposed higher insurance premiums on employees who use tobacco or who are overweight. That expense “could be potential motivation to quit smoking or to join a gym,” Cobb says. “But when you’re not hiring people based on something like that, at what point does the line end?”

And then there is the question about how to enforce such a policy. Beebe officials told the newspaper that they have no plan for nicotine testing of employees beyond the initial screening. “If you have a group of people standing outside smoking, is someone really going to walk out and say, ‘You were hired after January 20102, so you can’t smoke but these other people are fine?’” Cobb asks. “And do they make examples out of people [who violate the rule?] Do they fire them or do they allow the person to go into a cessation program? If the company policy on violators is that you get fired, then it’s a big deal. If it’s just a little slap on the wrist and you get a second chance, then maybe it’s not as big of a deal.”

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8 comments
JenniferAskew
JenniferAskew

They test for nicotine prior to hiring.  So, if you're trying to quit smoking using a smokeless nicotine product, like the skin patch, lozenge, inhaler, gum, or even the e-cigarette or snus, they can't be hired???  Then, you'd be penalized for trying to quit smoking. 

Olumopo9
Olumopo9

@TIME MerryChristmas&may the reason for the season-Jesus,dwell in our hearts today and always, amen

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0x00string

@TIME @TIMEBusiness puns in headlines make journalists look like dipshits. #justsaying

Something_Clever
Something_Clever

I worked in an office building on the 11th floor one time, and by coincidence none of my (software) product teammembers were smokers (myself included) while the other product-team sharing that office did have several smokers on it (one of whom is a close friend).  My colleagues and I were wondering about the lost productivity due to the time spent going up & down elevators  and standing around smoking - so we put it to the test.  Each person on our team pitched in $20 and we bought a cheapo foosall table, then when the other team went out to smoke, we'd play foosball until they came back in.  After 2 days our team decided to limit ourselves to only one morning game and one afternoon game because we weren't getting enough work done.

There are obviously legitimate concerns about smoking's health effects - as well as very legitimate concerns on how far employers should be able to go to discourage or ban smoking in the workplace.  That said, my own experience showed me that smoking could be a direct influence on how much people actually work, and that's a legitimate concern for companies that are trying to make money.

JohnDavidson
JohnDavidson

“The state must declare the child to be the most precious treasure of the
people. As long as the government is perceived as working for the benefit of the
children, the people will happily endure almost any curtailment of liberty and
almost any deprivation.”(Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler; 1943)

The Führer thanks you from the grave:
Hitler was a Leftist Hitler's Anti-Tobacco Campaign
One particularly vile individual, Karl Astel -- upstanding president of Jena
University, poisonous anti-Semite, euthanasia fanatic, SS officer, war criminal
and tobacco-free Germany enthusiast -- liked to walk up to smokers and tear
cigarettes from their unsuspecting mouths. (He committed suicide when the war
ended, more through disappointment than fear of hanging.) It comes as little
surprise to discover that the phrase "passive smoking" (Passivrauchen) was
coined not by contemporary American admen, but by Fritz Lickint, the author of
the magisterial 1100-page Tabak und Organismus ("Tobacco and the Organism"),
which was produced in collaboration with the German AntiTobacco League.

href="http://constitutionalistnc.tripod.com/hitler">http://constitutionalistnc.tripod.com/hitler-

JohnDavidson
JohnDavidson

Heres a time line starting in 1900,dont be surprised to see the same thing
playing out today nearly 100 years later.
1901: REGULATION: Strong anti-cigarette activity in 43 of the 45 states.
"Only Wyoming and Louisiana had paid no attention to the cigarette controversy,
while the other forty-three states either already had anti-cigarette laws on the
books or were considering new or tougher anti-cigarette laws, or were the scenes
of heavy anti- cigarette activity" (Dillow, 1981:10).
1904: New York: A judge sends a woman is sent to jail for 30 days for smoking
in front of her children.
1904: New York City. A woman is arrested for smoking a cigarette in an
automobile. "You can't do that on Fifth Avenue," the arresting officer says.
1907: Business owners are refusing to hire smokers. On August 8, the New York
Times writes: "Business ... is doing what all the anti-cigarette specialists
could not do."
1917: SMOKEFREE: Tobacco control laws have fallen, including smoking bans in
numerous cities, and the states of Arkansas, Iowa, Idaho and Tennessee.
1937: hitler institutes laws against smoking.