U-Haul made headlines last week after announcing the company will no longer hire nicotine users. This change will go into effect on February 1 in 21 states.
Based in Phoenix, U-Haul employs over 30,000 people in the U.S. and Canada. In states in which the policy will be enacted, job applicants will be questioned about nicotine use and will be subject to testing if allowable by state law.
This new hiring policy was met with opinions across the spectrum regarding whether it was a smart move by U-Haul or a cruel method of narrowing the pool of applicants for future positions.
The company stated that the policy was enacted to help maintain a “healthier workforce.” Jessica Lopez, U-Haul chief of staff, defended the policy by calling it a move to further the goals of the company’s health and wellness program, ABC15 Arizona reported.
"Each year it's been our mission to increase our wellness benefits program to help our workers and family members conquer their health goals,” Lopez said. “This nicotine-free hiring process is the next step.”
Part of U-Haul’s health and wellness program includes programs designed to help people quit the use of nicotine products.
Opponents of the new policy maintain that refusing work to smokers is an “extreme” action and that employers are more concerned about their bottom line than the health of their employees.
Although many businesses choose to ban the act of smoking at the workplace rather than refuse to hire tobacco users, U-Haul is not the only company with a no-smokers policy for employees. Alaska Airlines has been turning smokers away as potential hires since 1985, and some hospitals and health businesses have also jumped on the bandwagon.
One of the main reasons that companies give for refusing to hire nicotine users is that the health of their employees is placed at a significant risk when there are smokers on-site. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 5 preventable deaths are caused by smoking (or 480,000 annually). Secondhand smoke also threatens the health of employees and clients or customers who visit the workplace.
In addition to the lost lives and compromised health that smoking causes, companies pay higher costs for smoking employees. According to a 2013 study conducted by Ohio State University, businesses pay approximately $6,000 more per year for each employee who smokes. These costs are associated with issues including lower productivity, absenteeism and healthcare costs. All totaled, smoking-related illnesses cost more than $300 billion in medical expenses and lost productivity each year in the U.S. alone, according to the CDC.
U-Haul is not the first company to implement a non-smoking policy for its new hires – and it won’t be the last. Watch for other companies to consider such a policy – along with a lively debate in traditional and social media between those who support and oppose such a policy.
Image credit: Mike Mozart/Flickr
Debra is a writer and public relations professional based in Upstate New York. Her other interests include graphic design, photography, nature and animals. You can find her on LinkedIn.