U-Haul Says Nicotine Users Need Not Apply

 

Roy Maurer By Roy Maurer January 7, 2020
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man smoking

​Moving company U-Haul's New Year's resolution to help its workers improve their health includes screening out job applicants who smoke, vape or chew tobacco.

The Phoenix-based company announced that it will stop hiring nicotine users in 21 states without smoker-protection laws: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia and Washington.

The other 29 states and the District of Columbia have laws that prevent employers from discriminating against workers for using tobacco products.

The new policy takes effect Feb. 1. People interested in U-Haul jobs in the 21 states above will see the nicotine-free hiring policy on job applications and will be questioned about their nicotine use. In 17 states where testing is allowed, applicants must consent to submit to nicotine screening in the future to be considered for a job.

[SHRM members-only policy: Smoke- and Vape-Free Workplace Policy]

The reason for the new policy is to foster a culture of wellness throughout the company, said Jessica Lopez, U-Haul chief of staff. "Nicotine products are addictive and pose a variety of serious health risks," she explained. "This policy is a responsible step … with the goal of helping our team members on their health journey."

Nicotine is a naturally occurring chemical found in tobacco plants and is highly addictive. More people in the U.S. are addicted to nicotine than any other drug. Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the country, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"If U-Haul wants to emphasize a healthy workplace, it's a step in the right direction," said Eric Meyer, a partner in the Philadelphia office of FisherBroyles. "Addiction to nicotine is not a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, so the company is free to implement that policy in the states without any off-duty conduct laws covering nicotine use."

Meyer said that when considering regulating off-duty conduct, employers should be aware of relevant laws in states where they operate. California, for example, has some generous off-duty conduct laws, he said. "It's a good idea to talk to counsel before getting into regulating what employees can do off the clock."

Outside of the legal context, another important thing to consider when making this kind of decision is employee morale. "If there is a critical mass of smokers that are upset about the company's position not to hire nicotine users, that may ruffle some feathers," Meyer said.

U-Haul encourages staff members not to use nicotine by waiving a wellness fee that otherwise applies, Lopez said. She added that U-Haul has other initiatives to promote employees' health and well-being, like building a new fitness center on its headquarters campus in Phoenix as well as implementing nicotine-cessation-assistance programs, gym and personal trainer reimbursements, registered dietitian plans, health fairs, an online health portal, and time for group fitness events.

Is It a Trend?

Bans on hiring nicotine users exist at some hospitals and other health care organizations but are still rare. One notable exception is Alaska Airlines, which has had a no-nicotine hiring policy since 1985. The company implemented the ban to rein in health care costs and improve the health of its workforce, said Alexis Myers, a company spokeswoman.

U-Haul's announcement coincided with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's (FDA's) notification that it will ban most flavors of e-cigarette cartridges beginning in February. The FDA embarked in 2017 on a comprehensive, multiyear plan to regulate nicotine use. In December, the agency raised the minimum age to purchase all tobacco products from 18 to 21. The FDA also is considering significantly lowering nicotine levels in cigarettes, among other measures.

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