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Examining an Arizona county’s proposed ban on hiring smokers

Posted on: January 22nd, 2015 | Category: Employee Relations, Government Regulatory & Compliance Issues, hiring process, HR DirectLink Service, Human Resources, Legal Issues When Hiring, Our Blog, Payroll/Benefits

smoking and employees | myHR Blog myHR Partner IncWhen do health care cost reduction efforts cross the line into employment discrimination? That’s what we were wondering when we read a recent Washington Times article on how one county in Arizona is considering a ban on hiring smokers as municipal employees, as well as imposing surcharges on the health insurance of tobacco-using workers. Can they really do that?

According to the article:

The Pima County Board of Supervisors vote Dec. 16 on the plan, which also would give the county the right to demand nicotine tests of employees if county officials suspect they’re secretly puffing or dipping, whether at home or work, the Arizona Daily Star reported Friday.

“It’s not an attempt to punish anybody,” Human Resources Director Allyn Bulzomi told the Daily Star. “It’s an attempt to encourage people to be healthy.”

In order to be hired by the county, which contains Tucson and the University of Arizona, prospective employees would have to provide a doctor’s note certifying them as having been tobacco-free for at least one year or take a drug test to prove same.

The new plan will also have current employees sign a legal affidavit declaring themselves non-smokers get a small health-care discount while tobacco users would pay an additional 30 percent fee on top of their existing health-care costs. Some mandatory testing could also happen. The county projects this program would save it about $1 million in annual savings.

Not surprisingly, the proposal has generated its fair share of criticism from those who feel such a measure would be a form of employment discrimination, because there would be employment decisions based belonging to a specific group rather than a person’s job qualifications. Some states have laws placing smokers in a protected class, however Arizona is not one of them.

The original vote on the measure was scheduled for Dec. 16, 2014, but was delayed until Feb. 10 of this year to allow the board time to gather more information. We will be following the story here on myHR Blog, so stay tuned, folks!

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