Smoking – Allowed Basis of Discrimination

Blog, Healthcare & Welfare, Les Routledge

More hospitals and medical businesses in many states are adopting strict policies that make smoking a reason to turn away job applicants, saying they want to increase worker productivity, reduce health care costs and encourage healthier living. The New York Times

Some employers argue that they have the right to avoid hiring workers who smoke or even terminate those who start because they cost the organization money in terms of lost productivity and increased health care costs.

What happens if that policy is extended to additional “lifestyle illnesses” like Type 2 diabetes?  Consider the following response to the original article.

To the Editor:

The policy of firing or not hiring smokers is justified by some employers by the added health care costs; your article cites the federal estimate that “employees who smoke cost, on average, $3,391 more a year each for health care and lost productivity.”

Without granting that premise, I call your attention to your own article, “Diabetics in the Workplace Confront a Tangle of Law” (Dec. 26, 2006), in which you state that $13,243 is the estimated yearly medical costs for a diabetic, “more than five times that of workers without diabetes.” You add that “if absenteeism and productivity losses are added, diabetes ranks third as an economic cost to employers, after heart disease and hypertension.”

If dollars, not ability, are the hiring criterion, shouldn’t hospitals first refuse to hire diabetics and anyone with heart disease or hypertension, no matter how qualified?

It would seem that if the money excuse is gone, the smoker bans are starkly revealed for what they are: blatant, and highly irrational, discrimination.

Linda Stewart
New York, Feb. 11, 2011

Sometimes, being progressive can be regressive.