Smoking Hot

Over the years, many states have adopted laws prohibiting smoking in enclosed workplaces.  Even before that trend began, some companies, where permitted by law, excluded smokers from consideration for employment.  There are numerous reasons why this practice of restricting smoking in the workplace began including:


·         Effects of secondhand smoke on non-smokers in the workplace

·         Costs associated with group health coverage for smokers

·         Lost productivity from smokers who take more frequent breaks

Secondhand Smoke

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), non-smokers who are exposed to smoke at home or at work experience a 25-30% increase in the risk of developing heart disease.  Additionally, non-smokers are 20-30% more likely to be at risk for lung cancer. Non-smokers can also experience allergic reactions...sometimes severe allergic reactions…to smoke.

Because of laws in states such as Florida, Georgia, Arkansas and New Jersey among others, many employers prohibit smoking in any enclosed work area, building, company car, etc. Some companies allow employees to smoke in designated areas outside the building.

Permitting workers to use e-cigarettes/vapor cigarettes in the workplace is a consideration.  However, the studies have shown that the vapors emitted by these vapor cigarettes can be as potentially harmful as regular cigarette smoke. Frequently, the vapors will contain traces of nicotine, formaldehyde and other carcinogenic materials.

Costs of Smoking

Smoking is known to cause or contribute to such diseases as cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung diseases, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).  Treatment for these conditions has a significant impact on payments made by insurance companies, the costs of which are passed along to employers in the form of increased group health insurance premiums.

To offset the increased premiums, many companies have targeted smokers and are asking them to contribute more to the cost of their health insurance coverage.  However, companies have to be cautious about how they pass along these increased costs to employees.

The Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA)  and the Affordable Care Act (ACA) require employers to follow certain guidelines within a bona fide wellness program in order to pass along additional premium costs to smokers.  The Department of Labor has established five requirements that must be met in order for a wellness program to comply with the law:


“1) The program must give individuals eligible to participate the opportunity to qualify for the reward at least once per year.

2) The total reward for all the plan’s wellness programs that require satisfaction of a standard related to a health factor is limited – generally, it must not exceed 30 percent (or 50 percent for programs designed to prevent or reduce tobacco use) of the cost of employee-only coverage under the plan. If dependents (such as spouses and/or dependent children) may participate in the wellness program, the reward must not exceed 30 percent (or 50 percent) of the cost of the coverage in which an employee and any dependents are enrolled.

3) The program must be reasonably designed to promote health and prevent disease.

4) The full reward must be available to all similarly situated individuals. This means the program must allow a reasonable alternative standard (or waiver of the otherwise applicable standard).

5) The plan must disclose in all materials describing the terms of the program the availability of a reasonable alternative standard (or the possibility of a waiver of the otherwise applicable standard).”

Lost Productivity

Many employers feel that smokers take more frequent breaks than those who are non-smokers.  That may or may not be true.  Unless there is a specific state or local law governing breaks, the company, through its supervisors and managers, is permitted to control the frequency and duration of breaks.  When supervisors observe an employees taking more frequent smoke breaks, they should immediately address the situation with them and remind them of the companies policy regarding breaks.


While it’s pretty simple to demonstrate the costs of employing smokers, employers should think before they decide to exclude smokers from consideration for employment.  In many areas of the country, certain industries are finding it difficult to recruit workers.  This is especially true for those industries that employ skilled trades workers (plumbers, carpenters, electricians, etc.).  In order to attract the most experienced employees, the company may have to relax its hiring protocol with respect to employing smokers.

Contributed by the Employers Association Forum, Inc. (EAF). EAF is a non-profit corporate membership-based association dedicated to serving the business and HR communities with world-class HR tools, hotlines & legal compliance, news & trends, surveys & economic data, benefits & insurance, risk management, training & consulting, and leadership & organizational development. HCCMO members receive discounted rates on all EAF classroom training at EAF’s training center in Longwood. Click here to learn more about EAF membership benefits