Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Smoking ban or Smoker-ban? How far should Employers Go to Have a Healthy Workforce??

We all know now that smoking is a sure killer (second hand smoke too) and a budget buster for families, employers and the entire healthcare coverage system. That explains the explosion in efforts at every level and in every sector to get people to quit.

It is a given that employers now are banning smoking in work areas and even in many cases on their premises or on all work time; and many are creating incentives to quit like reimbursement for cessation program fees or patches. But when employers choose to ban the hiring of smokers, are they going a step too far? What are the implications of a ban not on smoking but on smokers themselves?

We already know that in most places employers have not only the rights to do all of the above but even the legal right to refuse to hire a smoker - so we do not need to debate this as an issue of "rights."

3.     There are 3 real reasons why the ban on hiring smokers may be ill advised:

1.This is a slippery slope with no logical endpoint; Will the next set of interview questions be about diet? Will there be a visual screening for obesity (you do not need a urine test to tell if someone is extremely overweight). What about other risky behaviors? We know speeding kills and don't even start with the dangers and costs to employers from alcohol usage. Finally, if advocates of smoker bans win out on a large scale does this mean adding 46 million smokers to the unemployment lines? Most who smoke want to quit and are struggling. Won't these policies have a disparate impact on the poor, minorities, and youth all of whom smoke substantially more than the average?

2. Banning smokers rather than smoking is an impractical, irrelevant idea to the vast majority of American businesses; Urine testing in HR at the majority of companies where they can barely stay afloat right now? Creating a culture of snitches when someone spots a smoking co-worker on the weekend? Isn't a ban on all smokers just a publicity stunt, and going nuclear before using all kinds of best practices?

3. And finally, this proposal is a distraction from what we really need: to see full implementation of healthcare reform so that a wide range of wellness and cost containment strategies can be unleashed; and to see wide adoption of aggressive, innovative best practices for worker and worksite wellness.

There is a debate to be had about best practices and public policy - and the idea of banning smokers from the American workplace is not really a constructive part of it for the vast majority of those of us signing paychecks for our workers. 

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