The city of Toledo could face a hiring ban for tobacco and nicotine users applying for city jobs. The Mayor of Toledo says an administrative policy prohibiting such hires will be put into place soon. Banning smokers has become common in the health-care industry and is spreading to governmental employment to save money on promote healthy habits and lower health-care costs. The problem is that in some cases, bans on hiring smokers may be discriminatory.
Fairfax County, Virginia, recently considered a hiring policy similar to the one proposed in Toledo, but the Fairfax county attorney advised that it would be illegal in the state. Virginia is one of 29 states, plus the District of Columbia, that prohibit “lifestyle discrimination” in the workplace. Companies in states with lifestyle discrimination statutes cannot refuse to hire people just because they smoke. California is one of the 29 states that provide employment protections to smokers.
Lifestyle discrimination laws vary from state to state. Some address specific activity and others encompass a wide array of off-duty conduct. California has one of the most sweeping lifestyle discrimination statutes, which prohibits discrimination based on any lawful activity by an employee off the premises and during non-working hours. It is illegal to demote, suspend, or fire a California employee for such lifestyle activities.
Ultimately, lifestyle discrimination is an employee privacy issue. Employers in states without some form of lifestyle discrimination statute can most likely ban hiring of smokers. Federal laws allow nicotine-free hiring because smokers are not recognized as a protected class.
The Toledo Mayor assures his constituents that the people currently employed who smoke would not be affected by the new ban.