Employees Who Smoke Cost Employers Big; Cessation Assistance Can Help

By Laura Dowling, SPHR on Feb 23, 2021
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employee smoking during the work day

At one point in time, smoking in the workplace was almost as acceptable as drinking coffee, but that hasn’t been the case for quite some time now. With greater knowledge of the health risks to the smoker and those exposed to second-hand smoke, most states and some cities have passed laws to prohibit smoking in the workplace, including the States of Kansas and Missouri. And it’s no wonder, considering smoking cigarettes is the leading cause of preventable disease, disability and death in the United States. According to the CDC, the habit is to blame for approximately 480,000 deaths each year.;

Smoking Costs Employers Big

Even when businesses are located in states or cities without smoke free workplace laws, business owners have the right to implement their own no smoking in the workplace policies. While their obligation to provide a safe and healthy workplace is first and foremost, the staggering business costs that come with smoking in the workplace can add up big for employers.

One Ohio State University study concluded each employee who smokes costs employers an additional $5,800 per year. Here’s the cost breakdown via Inc.:

$3,077: The cost of five smoke breaks per eight-hour workday.

$2,056: Additional employer healthcare costs due to smoking.

$517: The cost of additional sick days taken by smokers due to health consequences of smoking.

$462: The cost of reduced productivity.

$296: Employers’ savings on annual pensions due to premature deaths associated with smoking.

$5,816: Total estimated cost of each smoker to their employer.

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Can Employers Refuse to Hire Candidates Who Smoke?

With higher absenteeism rates, reduced productivity and increased health care costs, it’s no wonder some business owners may think it would simply be easier to only hire candidates who don’t smoke. However, many states have smoker protection laws in place that make it illegal to discriminate against an employee for the use of “lawful products outside the workplace” unless it goes against a specific job qualification (e.g. individuals who are seeking employment at an organization with a mission that goes against smoking, such as the American Lung Association). What’s more, employers in states with smoker protection laws cannot fire an employee for legally smoking outside of the workplace.

Smoking Cessation Assistance

When employers help employees quit smoking, not only are they helping save lives, but they are saving money, too. With an estimated savings of $6000 per year, per smoker who quits, it is easy to see why investing in a workplace smoking cessation program can be beneficial. Smoking cessation programs are designed to help employees who want to quit smoking through nicotine-replacement therapy, counseling and other smoking cessation initiatives. Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) health insurance plans are required to cover some level of smoking cessation, but it varies by an employer’s plan and/or insurance carrier.  One such program used by employees is the American Lung Association’s Freedom from Smoking program.  

Passing a smoke-free workplace policy doesn’t mean your workplace doesn’t welcome individuals who smoke. Smoke free workplaces are good for health and good for business.

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Written by Laura Dowling, SPHR

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