While smokers are in the minority at most workplaces, they still account for a significant portion of the population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, 28.3 million adults in the United States smoked cigarettes in 2021.
Whether your employer can stop you from partaking in tobacco depends on many factors.
Company’s right to regulate conduct
Employers generally have the right to regulate employee conduct during work hours. Smoking policies may be part of a broader set of guidelines to foster a healthy workplace. However, the extent to which an employer can dictate behavior outside of working hours is a nuanced area. Enforcing such policies depends on applicable laws.
In some cases, employers may not have the legal authority to fire someone based on being a smoker. Smoking is a legal activity for adults over 21 years old. Therefore, infringing upon an individual’s rights outside of the workplace may raise legal concerns. However, employers can emphasize the impact of smoking on health and productivity as part of their wellness initiatives.
Balance of employee rights with company interests
Concerns such as healthcare costs, productivity or the desire to promote a healthy image may motivate employers. Learning the reasons behind smoking-related policies can help employees understand the company’s perspective.
Exceptions and industry standards
Industries such as healthcare and education may have stricter smoking policies due to specific health or safety concerns. In such cases, industry standards and regulations can help determine whether an employer’s policies are appropriate.
Employees facing termination threats should clarify company policies with the human resources department. Open communication can contribute to a balance between individual rights and company interests.