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Can smokers be denied jobs in Pennsylvania?

Many people are aware of the health risks associating with smoking and using other type of tobacco products. In recent years, facing rising health insurance costs and a need to maintain a productive and healthy workforce, employers have been looking at policies that they can implement to help keep costs down and keep workers healthy. Some employers offer discounted gym memberships, others promote healthy options in the cafeteria or vending machines, while others have taken the arguably more extreme step of banning smoking.

Hospitals, healthcare providers, and colleges and universities have been among the first to create overt policies that discourage or ban smoking. In many cases, the ban applies to visitors as well as employees and impacts only the time that they spend on the premises, not their personal time. In a few more extreme cases, employers are creating a policy to avoid hiring smokers altogether.

Some readers don't realize that employers can discriminate against groups of people based on certain criteria, just not those that are protected by federal and state law. Protected classes, as we've discussed before, include categories like race, religion, gender, age, and disability status. Using this logic, it is perfectly acceptable for employers to specifically decline to hire applicants who smoke. However, employers may run into problems if that policy ends up affecting a certain protected class of people disproportionately. For example, if the no smoker policy results in the denial of applications only for workers over the age of 50, then there could be some latent age discrimination and the policy could be unlawful.

Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "Workzone: how far can businesses go in restricting smokers?" Tim Grant, March 17, 2013.

Information about employment discrimination can be found on our Pennsylvania employment law site.

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