Smoking Policies Focus on Carrots, Not Sticks

By Rebecca R. Hastings, SPHR Mar 20, 2012

Organizational smoking policies in the United States tend to focus more on where employees can and cannot smoke—and provide options for those seeking to quit—rather than barring smokers from employment, a Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) poll found.

The vast majority of organizations (95 percent) do not have a policy against hiring smokers and have no plans to implement such a policy, found "Smoking Policies in the Workplace," a SHRM poll released March 19, 2012. Just 2 percent of respondents said they won’t hire smokers, a practice that is prohibited in several states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The poll was fielded in January 2012. Respondents included 516 randomly selected HR professionals from SHRM's membership.

The report revealed some interesting changes in practices since SHRM polled members on the topic in 2006. For example, in 2012, employers are more likely to:

  • Charge higher health care premiums for smokers (17 percent, up 10 percentage points since 2006).
  • Charge higher life insurance premiums for smokers (8 percent, up 6 percentage points).
  • Offer a smoking cessation program (44 percent, up 8 percentage points).

Organizations with smoking cessation programs provide employees with options such as individual counseling (57 percent), nicotine replacement therapy (55 percent) and smoking cessation medications (53 percent).

Yet the poll found that employers are less likely to:

  • Limit the number of breaks employees can take during the day (26 percent, down 6 percentage points since 2006).
  • Prefer not to hire smokers (just 5 percent have such a preference in 2012, down 2 percentage points).

Although more employers ban smoking in and outside the workplace in 2012 than in 2006 (26 percent vs. 20 percent), a requirement for workplaces in some states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the SHRM poll found little change in the number of organizations that have policies saying that smoking in undesignated areas might result in termination (up just 1 percentage point to 27 percent since 2006).

However, this doesn't mean that organizations take no action against those who violate a company smoking policy. SHRM found that of organizations that take disciplinary action, most do so in the form of a verbal warning (77 percent) or written warning (63 percent), while 41percent will terminate for such violations.

Organizations communicate their smoking policies using a variety of methods, though the most common methods are the employee handbook (70 percent), new employee orientation (60 percent) and no-smoking signs (58 percent).

Forty-two percent of employers spread the word through supervisors and managers.

Regardless of the costs and consequences of workplace smoking, just 10 percent of employers offer a discount on employee health insurance to nonsmokers, while 8 percent offer a discount to those who are nonsmokers as well as those who participate in smoking cessation programs.

Rebecca R. Hastings, SPHR, is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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