Smoking is an activity that is involuntary due to the addiction involved. Governments and companies have developed much concern about the effect of second hand smoke on non-smokers. As such, the organizations have developed policies to prohibit smoking among their employees. Consequently, a heated debate has emerged on whether the businesses have the right to forbid their workers to smoke off the job. The following discussion presents some critical arguments concerning the matter.
Personal and Professional Aspects of Smoking
Governments often enact laws and policies to ensure that their citizens are protected against workplace discrimination based on some characteristics that are beyond their control. Companies have the mandate to promote a conducive work environment for all employees. This is based on the understanding that such an atmosphere is vital in increasing workers’ job satisfaction. As such, the organizations must consider the rights of all the staff members. Blanpain et al. (2005) state that smokers and non-smokers have their personal and privacy rights that companies should not violate. Based on the growing concern about the implication of second hand smoke on non-smokers, several changes have been implemented to create a shift from the past days when this habit was as accepted as drinking coffee. However, there are opposing arguments on whether the firms have the right to prohibit employees from smoking off the job.
Today, most states have enacted laws that are referred to as "clean indoor air laws". Some companies impose them on their staff to restrict workplace and off-the-job smoking. The move by some companies to ban smoking off the workplace is supported by the federal discrimination law that fails to protect smokers. However, some state laws restrict employers’ activities to discriminate against smokers (International Labour Organization [ILO], 2007).
Arguments for the Prohibition of Smoking
The recent years have been characterized by a big number of debates about how to eliminate the smoking culture. Several attempts have been made to ensure that the extent of smoking is reduced due to the implications of the habit for non-smokers. For example, smoking bans have been imposed in bars and restaurants as a move aimed at limiting the effects of second hand smoke (Blanpain et al., 2005). Undoubtedly, the prohibitions caused some initial backlash but were later adopted and seen as a common fact. Currently, the efforts to get rid of the smoking culture have gained momentum with companies developing written policies that exclude the possibility of hiring smokers. There are also regulations aimed at stopping employees from smoking while on or off duty. However, the new rules have presented a set of ethical and legal issues relating to the rights of the workers. Arguments about the legality and ethicality of the implemented schemes have been intensified despite the fact that some of them have been in place for a long time.
The International Labour Organization (2007) has noticed that in some states, companies refuse to hire smokers, and they literally screen job applicants while testing them for nicotine as a part of the recruitment process. Apart from that, some enterprises check their employees from time to time and fire those whose tests for nicotine turn positive. Based on the federal law, the screening process is allowed as there is no prohibition against it. Actually, companies conduct it during the job recruitment process because most states forbid them from dismissing the workers for being smokers after they have been taken on.
The organizations that ban smoking off the job argue that it is necessary to amp up the efforts to help people quit the habit. Though the new policies that they use to fire the workers based on their smoking status may lead to some short-term unhappiness, they believe that they bring long-term health benefits to the victims and other employees that are non-smokers. The baseline of their actions is that smoking compromises the sustainability of a healthy work environment. Such companies take advantage of their right to create conducive atmosphere for all staff members so as to increase their productivity rate. They argue that failure to boost the environment is likely to result in high level of the employee turnover that negatively impacts the organization’s efficiency. Therefore, for them to match the stiff competition for the market share, they have to develop policies that can help in ensuring that all workers are satisfied with their work place conditions. It entails the working out of schemes to prohibit off work smoking as non-smokers do not want to be denied comfort by the unpleasant smell from smokers.
Moreover, the companies that prohibit smoking off the job justify this move basing on the argument that saving the workers’ lives in the long term makes up for the violated privacy rights. The decision to implement a total ban on smoking is a factor of concern about human heath. The managers understand that they should always be the first to fight for the wellbeing of their employees no matter the cost. As such, they defend their decision to curtail smoking irrespective of the time. To them, it is a measure taken to promote workers’ health. Although the policies may lead to the appearance of some stigma against smokers, the companies have taken advantage of their right to implement them as they ultimately recalibrate social norms (ILO, 2007).
Another fact that businesses use to explain their move to prohibit smoking off the job is that such measures as giving financial incentives to encourage employees to give up the habit only result in very low quitting rates. Of all smokers who often say that they are ready to stop, just a few actually do it. Furthermore, the organizations like hospitals have to ban off work smoking based on the understanding that the smell of the cigarette smoke from the healthcare provider’s clothes can complicate patients’ conditions.
Arguments against the Prohibition
Despite the arguments put forward in support of the actions that prohibit the employees from smoking off the job, there are a number of reasons that present the decision to be unjust and unethical. In most states, companies cannot refuse to hire and cannot fire people because they smoke off duty. There are some "smoker's rights" states that prevent employers from dismissing their workers due to the use of tobacco off the clock. However, there are laws that recognize companies’ entitlement to prohibit smoking during working hours due to the fact that anti-smoking campaigns are often a part of an employee wellness program. In this context, organizations that ban their staff from smoking off the job are invading their privacy rights. There are states that strictly deny employers the opportunity of infringing on their employees’ right to smoke off the job. In other cases, there are laws that prevent companies from making certain job decisions on an account of the legal activities that employees are involved into outside the workplace. An example is Michigan where a business decided to terminate staff members that failed to comply with its policy that prohibited workers from smoking at all. The state senator introduced a bill that prevents such a discriminative act and seeks to promote employee privacy while off work (Blanpain et al., 2005).
Walton (2013) states that according to the American Civil Liberties Union, a failure to hire one for a job due to smoking or a decision to fire one for smoking off duty is a form of discrimination. The union argues that companies that dismiss workers for this reason deprive the workers of the activities they have the right to do in their own time. Although the federal regulations fail to safeguard smokers from workplace discrimination, several states have enacted laws to fill the gap. The rules state that smokers have no right to light up a cigarette while working but permit them to smoke while off the job. They also prevent employers from firing the staff members or denying them jobs because of smoking off duty. In general, the states consider smokers to be a protected class or group.
According to most activists for workers’ rights, employers have no reason to step in employees’ personal activities unless the latter are getting involved in off-duty behaviors that compromise their work. For example, it is illegal for companies to impose smoking bans on employees when off duty in 30 states and the District of Columbia. California, Colorado, New York and North Dakota have well formulated worker privacy laws that prevent organizations from exercising control over the majority of the legal activities when their workers are not at the workplace (Walton, 2013).
Some companies have argued that prohibiting smoking among employees when they are off duty may be for the workers’ own good. However, the opponents suggest that implementing a no hire policy or firing employees for smoking off the job shows the companies’ failure to care for people while presenting an extra burden for the already disadvantaged populations. They go ahead to claim that such moves are unhealthy for the interventions that help to promote smoking cessation. It is also wrong to ban off duty smoking because it is not a totally voluntary behavior; it comes due to addiction. Therefore, it is unjust to punish employees for their unintentional actions (Blanpain et al., 2005).
It may be difficult to reach a consensus concerning this thorny issue. Companies need to establish a balance between the implications of turning away good talent because of a smoking addiction and the need to protect non-smokers from the effects of second hand smoke. While seeking to improve the health status of their employees, establish healthy working conditions for all the workers and reduce the turnover rate, it is vital for them to consider upholding the privacy rights of those staff members who smoke. It is vital for employers to push hard so that they can get their employees into smoking-cessation programs. Such schemes are argued to be cost effective as they improve absentee rates and reduce the amount of time wasted due to smoking-related illnesses (Walton, 2013).