Endorse Ban on Hiring Smokers or Sponsor Good Smoking Cessation Programs?

In 2008, the Indian government banned smoking in workplaces and other public places to protect people from passive smoking. Currently, there is no law in India that prohibits an employer from refusing to hire smokers but globally it is becoming increasingly common for companies not to hire smokers. There are valid reasons for companies to do so. For smokers have bigger health issues than non-smokers and it costs companies dearly in terms of work days lost due to illnesses both short term and chronic and increased cost of healthcare for their employees. Various studies have shown that smokers cost way more than non-smokers in terms of absenteeism and healthcare costs.  But a ban on hiring smokers is a complicated issue. Companies run the risk of running afoul of laws on discrimination at the workplace. Apart from that, talented employees are hard to find.  Companies can’t risk limiting their talent pool by refusing to hire talented smokers as this would impact their productivity.

It is interesting to note that in 2015 the department of information technology, biotechnology and science and technology sent a circular to five associations representing the IT industry in the state of Karnataka asking them to ban smoking by employees on the campus. Hence, given the regulatory focus and general public sentiment, it would not be imprudent to expect that Indian companies may introduce certain measures to discourage smokers from applying. This may not be in the form of an explicit ban on hiring smokers but in the form of rewarding non-smokers, not providing a smoking zone, etc.

An implicit discouragement seems a more plausible action to take to avoid smoking by employees given that a ban on hiring smokers can be challenged in court as a discriminatory practice. Banning people on the basis of healthcare costs can be proven to be irrational and it opens floodgates for banning people with weight issues and other medical conditions.   These lawsuits can prove to be very expensive and counterproductive. Moreover, such a ban, in reality, can be rendered quite ineffective by artful manipulation. Smokers can clear the tests at the time of recruitment by ceasing to smoke for some time and take it up later. This kind of temporary cessation of smoking will be useless in limiting smoking-related costs that a company is trying to avoid by not hiring smokers.  Thus, a ban such as this would seem futile for the employers.

A better strategy would be to ensure strict adherence of no smoking policy at the workplace by all. Ban on workplace smoking has been in place mostly everywhere now. In 1986, two studies made the link between lung diseases including cancer and second-hand smoke clear.  Non-smoking co-workers need protection from the harmful results of passive smoking.  Secondly, companies can and must encourage their employees to quit smoking by sponsoring good smoking cessation programs including counselling and therapy at work. The cost-benefit ratio of such programs shows they are great in cutting absentee rates due to ill health.

Article by Dan Wisniewski in HRmorning
AbelHR: Pros and cons of hiring smokers
Akerman: Can employees refuse to hire smokers. Sarah J Lis and Karen M Buesing

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