Smokers Need Not Apply

May 20, 2008
This article is part of a series called News & Trends.

You can only hope that the best A-level candidates in Sarasota, Florida, are two-pack-a-day smokers and get turned down for employment with the county and ultimately end up working at your company.

While everyone can agree that smoking is unhealthy, should it be the primary reason to close the door on prospective new applicants? Especially prospective “star” candidates?

Well, Sarasota county government seems to think so. On Monday, it implemented a tobacco-free hiring policy for all new job applicants.

On the one hand, everyone should applaud this healthy step forward. On the other, what’s next? Testing for the presence of excessive levels of Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey or a few too many Twinkies?

But Sarasota is serious about this new policy, stating that all applicants for jobs with Sarasota County will be required to acknowledge during the application process that they have not used tobacco products for the preceding 12 months.

Applicants who refuse to verify that they do not use tobacco products will be deemed ineligible for employment. In addition, applicants will be screened for tobacco use during the new-hire physical exam process. If the screening indicates the presence of nicotine above a specified amount, the applicant will be considered ineligible for employment.

Why Change Now?

The county says its revised policy is based on years of research regarding the negative effects of tobacco use on the personal health of individuals and employer organizations.

For example, from 1997 to 2001, cigarette smoking was estimated to be responsible for $167 billion in annual health-related economic losses in the United States.

Sarasota County says its decision to adopt this tobacco-free policy will promote a healthier workforce and benefit taxpayers’ dollars.

Of course, Sarasota is not alone. Due to higher insurance costs and the drain on productivity, employers around the country have considered such measures.

(We checked its online jobs board, but R.J. Reynolds is not one of these more progressive employers.)

If your company is thinking of such a policy, make sure to learn from other companies that have faced lawsuits from employees. For example, a Miracle-Gro employee challenged the policy last year.

This article is part of a series called News & Trends.
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