Ethically Refusing to Hire Smokers

Jessica Lau

Jessica Lau

Recently, I’ve read an attention-grabbing article called Should Companies Have The Right To Refuse To Hire Smokers? on Forbes, it is about the debate and ethicality in not hiring smokers. This is of great interest to me, as HR professionals are the ones in charge of hiring and creating policies regarding this.

According to Alice G. Walton from the article, one group, including “Ralph W. Muller, CEO of Heal, argues that it’s high time to amp up our efforts to help people quit – even if new policies bring short-time unhappiness, they will certainly bring long-term health benefits.” Another group, including “former White House health advisor Ezekiel J. Emanuel, says that even though everyone agrees that smokers should be encouraged to quit, it’s fundamentally unethical for businesses, and even hospitals, to refuse people jobs because they smoke.”

I was quite torn with which group I am in support of. But after some thoughts on this “not hiring smokers” debate, I came to the view that it is unethical for companies and HR to discriminate and not hire someone who is a smoker.

I do agree that people, companies, policy makers and leaders should increase their effort to help people quit but I feel that it is unethical to have policies to not hire smokers. To me, this in a way is to force people to quit. As a very liberated individual, I believe people should be allowed to do whatever they desire for their lifestyle and should not be forced to do something due to society’s pressure. Are we, in a way, discriminating and bullying people to be non-smokers? Since if they don’t become non-smokers then they won’t get hire.

It is true that in hospital settings, most patients probably don’t want to smell the cigarette smoke on the hospital employees’ clothes or body. However, I believe the hospital may want to consider making it a rule not to smoke during work hours. As an HR professional, I believe it is more important to try to implement policies to help and support people to quit.

When I read this article, I related the smokers to those people who are obese and unhealthy with high chances of heart attack and strokes. Often, these people may have habits, which continuously contribute to their obesity. Do we need to stop hiring these individuals, as we want to encourage them to be healthier, like we want to encourage smokers to quit to be healthier? No, that’s not what companies are doing. Instead of not hiring them, companies are implementing health and wellness programs to encourage people to live a healthier life. We should do the same with smokers. As HR professionals, we should consider implementing more health and wellness programs to help and support our employees lead healthier lives, let it be due to obesity or smoking problems.

What is the HR policy your company has in regards to hiring or not hiring smokers? I am very interested in knowing what are the common practices and perspectives out there. How are you, as an HR professional, impacting these policies and practices regarding “not hiring smokers” or helping employees quit?

Walton, Alice G. “Should Companies Have The Right To Refuse To Hire Smokers?”   Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 28 Mar. 2013. Web. 31 Mar. 2013.

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