In an already tough job market, smokers could find landing a job even more difficult.
It’s illegal for employers to reject job applicants because of their race, religion, sex, national origin, age or disability. However, they can discriminate against an applicant if they smoke cigarettes.
An employer in Texas is doing exactly that. Baylor Health Care System has said they will not hire you if you use tobacco in any form.
According to Phyllis Lile-King, an attorney in Greensboro, what Baylor is doing is perfectly legal.
“It is discrimination, but all discrimination is not illegal. Not everything is protected,” she said.
Baylor officials said smoking has a lot to do with the high costs of health care.
The FDA has information to back that up. The FDA estimates smoking costs employers $200 billion a year in lost productivity and added health care costs.
While Baylor is going public with its policy, Lile-King said among potential new-hires, non-smokers have had a leg up for years, even if they didn’t know it.
“The employer can tell one is a smoker and one is not. I wouldn’t be surprised if that employer, everyday in this country, hires the non-smoker. It’s not the first time that smokers have been discriminated against in employment,” she said.
Lile-King also said that with rising health care costs, we’ll likely see more employers being up front about their hiring policy.
However, the issue has many people asking, what’s next?
“It’s like a domino effect. One day it’s one thing and the next day it’s something else. The next thing you know, it’s going to be, if you drink, we can’t hire you. It just goes on from there,” said Fred Adams.
“An employer might say, if you have an unhealthy diet, I’m not going to hire you or if you don’t exercise regularly, I’m not going to hire you,” Lile-King said.
According to Lile-King, that wouldn’t be illegal either. While a smoker could take an employer to court or file a lawsuit for discrimination, it wouldn’t get very far without any law that protects them. Lile-King said the case would be pretty quickly dismissed.
“If folks didn’t have an incentive before to stop smoking, here’s another one,” she said.
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