Smoking Discrimination in the Workplace

HR Resource
May 13, 2013 — 2,658 views  
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Humana’s recent discriminatory policy that excludes smokers from their work team is a bold measure. Humana, the health insurer, recently announced that they would test their employees for nicotine content. They would not hire those people who test positive in the nicotine test. This is a matter of concern for other companies.

Humana's Smoker Discrimination Policy

Humana is a healthcare insurer based out of Arizona. Recently, they announced a bold policy against smoking and smokers. According to their policy, they would no longer hire smokers. But Humana is not the first company to demonstrate their aversion to tobacco. Many companies have smoker discrimination policies in place. These companies also refuse to hire smokers.

The possible reason behind Humana’s discriminatory hiring policy is the rising health insurance costs being borne by companies. The smokers raise health concerns. So, businesses hope to cut insurance costs with the help of this discriminatory policy. The question being raised against this policy is whether Humana’s action leads to workplace discrimination. This question can be better addressed by taking existing federal and state laws into account. If the federal policy or the state policy on workers has a law that prohibits this form of workplace discrimination, then Humana’s action might not be legitimate.

Legalities about Smoker Discrimination

Laws on federal employment currently do not protect someone discriminated on the basis of smoking. But there is protection against workplace discrimination. Some of the grounds on which no employer can discriminate its employees include sex, religion, race, nationality, genetics, disability, age, and color. Evidently, smoking or tobacco usage is not included in the list that employers cannot discriminate. In other words, the federal law will not be able to protect Humana employees against discrimination on the basis of smoking.  

Apart from federal laws, there are state laws in force against workplace discrimination. There are some classifications such as political affiliation, family status, income, marital status, sexual orientation, and even consumption of tobacco in any form, which come under the purview of protection whenever discrimination takes place. While some states may protect smokers, other states will not. This depends on the laws set in their respective state.  

Provisions for Smokers

It is evident that federal laws do not protect smokers from workplace discrimination. But some states have provisions for smokers. The workplace laws in these states have provisions according to which employers cannot discriminate employees on the basis of tobacco use or smoking. Currently, the District of Columbia and 29 other states in the US have laws in place to protect smokers from workplace discrimination, if they are discriminated.

The employers in these states cannot refuse to hire someone just because they smoke. They cannot cite excessive healthcare burden, likely to be caused by tobacco usage, as the ground of not hiring a person. On the other hand, many states have laws that ban smoking within workplace premises or inside the employer’s property. Additionally, the Disabilities Act permits an employer to request reasonable accommodation for an employee.

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