Here’s Why You Should Never, Ever Hire People Who Smoke

I’m going to tick off nearly every smoker who visits this website — and delight most every non-smoker — by detailing why it’s a good rule of thumb to not hire smokers.

A Rule of Thumb is a principle whose broad application is not intended to be strictly accurate or reliable in every situation. It is an easily learned and easily applied procedure for approximating a determination.

The catalyst for this article is an email I received a couple weeks ago from a small business owner:

Jim,

My father and I own a small business and we are having problems with hiring smokers. The last few hires have been smokers and we seem to have more lost productivity due to smoke breaks. How do weed those candidates out without infringing upon any labor laws? Are there any questions that we can use?  

Thank you,

A.J.

Following is my reply:

Hi A.J.,

Thanks for the note. Below is a passage and a couple questions from my book (Hire Like You Just Beat Cancer) related to smoking. The first step before moving forward on pre-employment questions would be to ask a competent employment attorney if smokers are a protected class in your locale. They could also tell you if the questions I list below and your company adopting a no-smoking agreement are legal where you do business.

Diminished productivity on the job

Don’t hire smokers. (Note: This rule of thumb might not be legal in some states — especially those along Tobacco Road.) This is another rule of thumb that raises eyebrows, but every non-smoker with whom I’ve talked it through sees the wisdom in it.

The only folks who disagree are, predictably, some smokers.

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It is almost a certainty that a regular tobacco habit will diminish smokers’ productivity, depreciate your real estate, annoy their non-smoking co-workers, and damage employee-manager relationships. Plus, managing this issue adds an unnecessary level of grief and liability to your business.

My first summer job was in the employee services department at the Erie Zoological Gardens. (You might think everybody who works at a zoo shovels elephant poop all day long, but that’s not the case. I worked in the concession stands, ticket booth, carousel, and other areas where employees interacted with visitors. I smelled lots of elephant poop but never touched the stuff.)

What my first job taught me about smokers

My last year on the job was the summer after my freshman year in college. A new hiring manager had brought in a wave of new high schoolers, some of them smokers. The previous hiring manager never hired smokers, so this was my first exposure to nicotine-addicted team members. I learned firsthand that their habit will harm:

  • Their productivity — After we’d served a flurry of customers on busy days, the concession stand needed all hands on deck to wipe the counters, refill the ketchup dispensers, and fill the napkin holders before the next wave hit. But the smokers needed a quick hit. So they’d leave the concession stand to smoke in the employee break room, which meant the size of the clean-up crew was cut in half.
  • Your real estate — Our break room was already crummier than the monkey cages, but the smokers made it intolerable. When I punched out for lunch, I’d have to walk through a smoke-filled hallway. When the smokers weren’t taking a(nother) break, the room was a mess because they tossed their cigarette butts on the floor.
  • The attitude of non-smoking co-workers — Based on what you’ve just read, how do you think I felt about my smoking teammates? When we needed helping hands, they weren’t there. They trashed the break room. And they were belligerent when asked to change their behavior. “It’s a habit,” was their excuse. I told them playing basketball was my habit. So would they mind if I took a break during a rush of customers to dribble around the giraffe exhibit? They argued that their habit was excusable because it was an addiction. I’m sure my employer enjoyed paying us for having these conversations.
  • Employee-manager relationships — The veteran employees tasked with training the new-hire smokers resented the extra grief they had to endure. “Where’s Steph? She’s been gone for 20 minutes now.” “You just had your hands near your mouth. Wash your hands before touching the food.” “You’ve already taken three breaks today. Do you really need another?”

Pre-employment questions you can ask (where legal)

Hiring casual smokers is acceptable, but there are very few true casual smokers. Candidates often smoke more than they claim they do.

I’ve listed a bunch of reasons not to tolerate smoking and the associated grief it creates in your workplace, but here’s the biggest one: Smoking causes cancer.

Note: These pre-employment questions may be illegal in some states where smokers are a protected class.

  1. Do you smoke?
  2. Would you sign a no-smoking agreement? Everyone who works here signs a no-smoking agreement. Smoking is not permitted on company premises — in the building or on the parking lot — at any time of day or night, including weekends, at lunchtime even if you leave the premises, at any company function anywhere, or at trade shows at any time. Would you sign that no-smoking agreement?

If it’s legal where you live, I recommend adopting a no-smoking agreement and discussing smoking in your pre-employment process. Some companies go as far as urine testing for nicotine prior to making a job offer.

Review your HR and hiring practices at least annually to see if they need updated. HR law and your organization change frequently. For example, would you now apply this rule of thumb to employees who work 100 percent from home?

Jim Roddy is the president of Jameson Publishing and author of the book “Hire Like You Just Beat Cancer,” which features hiring lessons, interview best practices, and recruiting strategies for managers through the perspective of a cancer-surviving executive. For more information on the book, go to http://www.HireLikeYouJustBeatCancer.com.

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29 Comments on “Here’s Why You Should Never, Ever Hire People Who Smoke

  1. So, smoking decreases productivity. That is, if you believe in a warm body approach to employment.

    If you consider that an employee standing at a counter is equally productive at minute 1, 93, 180, and 357 of the day, then yes. You are correct.

    However, if you want to optimize the productivity of an employee, you would want them to step away from the computer screen at specific intervals, 60, 90, or 120 could be cited with specific amounts of rest between each cycle.

    In The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance (http://projects.ict.usc.edu/itw/gel/EricssonDeliberatePracticePR93.pdf), Ericsson found that 90 minutes of focus followed by downtime would optimize ability to learn a new skill or make the most of their time.

    Are you saying that, in writing your book, that you sat down for 3 hours at a time, wrote as effectively in minute one as you did at minute 180?

    Maybe, in your experience, you just had bad managers who couldn’t predict the pace of business? I spent 6 and a half years throughout high school and college working in fast casual dining. The times that there will be bumps in customer activity are pretty standard throughout the day. Of course, during the expected increase in business, smokers wouldn’t take smoke breaks.

    Further, it’s 30 states. Not just the tobacco belt. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smoker_Protection_Law

  2. So, smoking decreases productivity. That is, if you believe in a warm body approach to employment.

    If you consider that an employee standing at a counter is equally productive at minute 1, 93, 180, and 357 of the day, then yes. You are correct.

    However, if you want to optimize the productivity of an employee, you would want them to step away from the computer screen at specific intervals, 60, 90, or 120 could be cited with specific amounts of rest between each cycle.

    In The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance (http://projects.ict.usc.edu/itw/gel/EricssonDeliberatePracticePR93.pdf), Ericsson found that 90 minutes of focus followed by downtime would optimize ability to learn a new skill or make the most of their time.

    Are you saying that, in writing your book, that you sat down for 3 hours at a time, wrote as effectively in minute one as you did at minute 180?

    Maybe, in your experience, you just had bad managers who couldn’t predict the pace of business? I spent 6 and a half years throughout high school and college working in fast casual dining. The times that there will be bumps in customer activity are pretty standard throughout the day. Of course, during the expected increase in business, smokers wouldn’t take smoke breaks.

    Further, it’s 30 states. Not just the tobacco belt. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smoker_Protection_Law

  3. Being a smoker is not an indicator of someone’s being willing to knock themselves out when necessary to do so.

    I’ve seen plenty of smokers who won’t leave what they are doing until everything about their job has been attended to.

    In an era where employees are allowed to cruise the Internet and/or send text messages while they are at their desks, it is ridiculous to suggest smokers are less productive than non-smokers.

    1. but smokers do those things also in ADDITION to smoking, and those things don’t require walking away from your desk to do them. Employers don’t have to allow smoking or those things.

  4. Being a smoker is not an indicator of someone’s being willing to knock themselves out when necessary to do so.

    I’ve seen plenty of smokers who won’t leave what they are doing until everything about their job has been attended to.

    In an era where employees are allowed to cruise the Internet and/or send text messages while they are at their desks, it is ridiculous to suggest smokers are less productive than non-smokers.

  5. Honestly… it sounds to me like your organization had a problem with managing your staff. Break policies exist for a reason. If anyone is trying to sneak in extra breaks (smoker or not) then disciplinary action is in order. Also, smokers should NEVER be allowed to light up around non-smokers. That is on YOUR organization for allowing it in a break room. Lastly, the non-smoking employees had every right to be upset. Why were you allowing smokers all of these extra privileges to begin with (smoking in break rooms, taking extra breaks, and etc)? In the end… it sounds like your organization did not have a “smoker” problem. It seems to have suffered from an “employee management” problem.

  6. I never smoke on the job. I hate stinking. I know I stink when I smoke. I will smoke before work, take a shower and then go to work. I worked at this place for 5 years, and the person I worked with only found out I smoked because we went to a bar one night.

    1. Ah, someone who is considerate. I would have liked to tell some smokers to take a shower, but they get real mad at me.

  7. Way to censor an opinion you don’t like. If I had my way, your whole website would be deleted. I repeat – You are a giant faggot. You should be tied up and raped to death while the rapists blow smoke in your gay face.

  8. I have seen employees fired for taking unauthorized smoke breaks, that isn’t illegal. Your example is flawed because: 1 you’re talking about high school students: 2 there is a severe lack of structure for breaks: 3 there is a lack of leadership among management. If you were the manager, then don’t authorize the break. You’re there to make sure that the job gets done, not be their friend. This book is the worst type of advice that you can give. Try being constructive and make a better work environment. Not discriminatory and ignorant because you once had a bad experience. If I ever have an employer ask me any of your questions, I’m suing them and you. You, because you authored this hate filled monstrosity.

    1. good luck with your lawsuit, it isn’t illegal for them to ask, even in states where you can’t refuse to hire smokers. And, good luck suing him! It’s called freedom of speech.

      1. First, if they ask that question, then it is discrimination. Second, because the writer is promoting discrimination, that can be considered libel and is not protected by freedom of speech. Look at it from another perspective, if a writer was writing to not hire someone based on sexual preferences and how to screen them, then it wouldn’t be protected either.

        1. First- No, it isn’t discrimination, smokers are not a protected class like race, gender, age, or sexual orientation. Libel is saying something untrue- in print, rather than in speech (in which case it would be slander) they’re not saying anything untrue in this statement.

        2. there is no law against “promoting discrimination” at all, ever heard of the KKK, neo-nazi’s, godhatesfags.com or other hate sites, which go beyond mere discrimation and they are protected by freedom of speech.

          1. You don’t have to be part of a “protected class” to be discriminated against. People think that you have to fall into this category or that are descriminating. The only thing that should keep you from getting a job is whether or not your qualified.

            And the big difference between this and the examples is that this is trying to deny jobs and a fair wage, something that all the hate groups are not allowed to mess with according to federal law. If someone wrote a book saying how to screen someone for homosexuality, and that you shouldn’t hire them, wouldn’t be protected by freedom of speech. That is why no publisher will publish that book.

          2. you do have to be part of a protected class to be discriminated against, at least with regard to employment. If they don’t like something and feel it will adversely effect your performance they can choose not to hire you. For example, would it be discrimination to not hire people with face or other visible tattoos and those who don’t wear deodorant? No, at least not legally. They have property rights as to who they want to hire and who they want representing their company. You can’t just take something something an employer may not like for one reason or another- for no good reason and say “You’re discriminating against me!”

            And no, it’s not just whether or not you are qualified, your attitude, demeanor, behavior, and even appearance are also are part of it. I got a job and beat out several other candidates who had more experience- they told me, because I had a more positive attitude, which is their right. If they have to pay more money for you’re health insurance because you smoke, they have the right to say no to you being an employee.

          3. You are a retard. 29 of the 50 states ban discrimination against smokers. Please do some research.

          4. Wrong again, there are books which promote murder against homsexuals, that’s not legal either (ever heard of the bible?? Check out Leviticus 20:13) and it’s the best selling book of all time! It is not banned or taken off the shelves at all!

        3. No, it isn’t, not in every state. You can’t just pick anything you want (such as smoking, or anything else an employer might not like) and yell “That’s discrimination” only specific things aren’t able to be targeted by employers, smoking is not one of them in most cases

          1. “No, it isn’t, not in every state. You can’t just pick anything you want (such as smoking, or anything else an employer might not like) and yell “That’s discrimination” only specific things aren’t able to be targeted by employers, smoking is not one of them in most cases” I ask of you are you claiming that 21 is greater than 29? Discrimination based on smoking is illegal in 29 states and legal in 21 states. You might want to look up the definition of “most cases”.

  9. Two points: If a 5 to 7 minute smoke break per 2-3 hours ruins the productivity of the company, then fuck your company.
    If you can’t make your employee use an ashtray when he or she smokes then fuck your ability as an employer.

  10. Too bad we dont have the same laws for the alcoholics who show up drunk and have a multitude of health issues; or to fat people who probably drain more resources that smokers and drinkers. And when you talk about productivity and attitude, which you apparently have never researched these two classes, you’ll see what I mean! Unfortunately, there are many rules against the alcoholic and fat people because most of them shmooz there way up to be in positions of power or write idiotic articles such as this.

  11. Oh yes. If you have this habit, demonstrate your responsibility as a human being and kick it.

    I hate that stench. Every day at the bus stops, then standing next to those tabacco-ridden flea bags in the bus, then dealing with their asses parking themselves near the ventilation ducts outside and bathing the building in their sorrows.

    Everyone has it tough- pick a coping strategy that doesn’t kill everyone else.

  12. Smoking is a drug addiction. You wouldn’t give time so someone could shoot heroin or snort coke, so why should addicts get time to smoke?

    There is no “right to a smoke break.” They can smoke on their own time, at home. It doesn’t “violate their rights”. If non-smokers don’t get extra breaks, why should the addicts?

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