INSIDERS: Should Employers Only Hire Non-Smokers?

Posted at 11:45 AM, Nov 13, 2015
and last updated 2017-12-13 05:24:30-05

MOULTRIE, Ga. (WTXL)--The City of Moultrie is no longer hiring smokers.

The city manager says health insurance costs get more expensive every year, and this is a way to save money. Would you stop lighting up to get a job?

City manager Mike Scott says the city has been tobacco-free for some time now. Recently, they took it took a step further, when council members unanimously voted to stop hiring those who use nicotine products. The decision took effect November 1. 

"I kind of look at it like high-risk auto insurance," said Scott. "If you have a lot of wrecks and you continue to drive fast you are going to pay a higher premium and health care isn't that much different."

Scott says choosing unhealthy lifestyles can be costly, so the city is just trying to eliminate those liabilities.

If you smoke, or use other nicotine products you shouldn't apply to work in Moultrie.

"It would be a question on the application a yes or no question and the during the pre-employment physical that would be part of the physical just like a routine physical," said Scott.

Scott says it'll costs a few extra dollars to add this test to the physical, but it's nothing compared to long term health costs to the city.

A smoker who didn't want to go on camera had this reaction.

"Personal habits should not have anything to do with a person's performance on the job," said Kim Meacham. "There are too many jobless people in Moultrie that need to work that have nicotine habits."

Francine Rossman says she understands the city's move.

"If there are no laws on the books saying they can't discriminate then I guess with the high costs of healthcare then I think they should do what they have to do to minimize the bottom line," said Rossman. "I guess if I was a smoker and I wanted a job with the city then I would quit smoking."

The city manager says it's not discriminatory, and they've done their research.

We also reached out to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. 

"There are no laws enforced by the EEOC that protect smoking in the workplace, unless an anti-smoking rule were applied unfairly only to some demographic groups and not to others," said James Ryan, the EEOC public affairs specialist. "In that case, we might intervene in some way to ensure that no law or practice is discriminatory. I have never heard of such a situation, but of course it's possible." 

Moultrie does offer programs to help current employees who want to kick the habit.

"If a person continues to use tobacco there is a surcharge on their health insurance that is paid bi-weekly that comes of their check," said Scott. 

This year the surcharge is $23.08. The next year it doubles to $46.16. In 2017, it's $92.32.

"We're self-funded," said Scott. "The funding for our health care comes from the employees and the city. It's an 80/20 split. Any costs that are incurred are passed along to the employee on their 20 percent and the 80 percent for the city. so if we save by not hiring people who use tobacco."

Earlier this year, Tallahassee city commissioners looked at a ban on hiring smokers for all departments. This is still being discussed.

However, if you want to work as a Tallahassee police officer or firefighter you can't smoke. A city spokesperson also tells us firefighters are tested for nicotine once a year.