·  Legal News, Analysis, & Commentary

Health & Medicine

U-Haul Joins Other Companies in Banning Employee Nicotine Use

— January 21, 2020

U-Haul will join others in adopting a no nicotine hiring policy.

Phoenix, Arizona based moving company, U-Haul, recently announced it will no longer hire people who use nicotine.  Nicotine free hiring policies are more common at hospitals and other medical campuses but are becoming increasingly popular at companies outside of the field.  Employers are making the policy change citing both employee health concerns or health care costs, stating that nicotine creates an added burden to the budget.  However, the policies have been met with some criticism, particularly from an ethical standpoint.

Harald Schmidt, a medical ethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, said, “Targeting smokers disproportionately harms poor people.” He added, “To me, this is more about fair equality of opportunity.”  He doesn’t equate it with discriminating on the basis of race, gender or sexual orientation, but voices concern over the fact that almost half of unemployed people smoke, and quitting is especially difficult.

“You’re basically posing a double whammy on them,” he said. “It’s very hard for them to get work, and it’s even harder for people who are already in a vulnerable situation.”

U-Haul Joins Other Companies in Banning Employee Nicotine Use
Photo by fotografierende on Unsplash

Karen Buesing of the law firm Akerman represents employers and works with them on smoking policies and contends her clients are looking out for the health and well-being of their employees.

“Employers do have some concern about productivity and absenteeism,” she said. “But it’s more about the risks of cancer and heart and lung disease.  Obviously, there are higher health care costs associated with smokers.  And so many companies would much prefer to have a nonsmoking workforce.”  In fact, experts cite the average cost of employing a smoker to be in the thousands of dollars per year.  She added, “Certainly under federal law, smokers are not a protected class.”

Edgar Ndjatou, executive director of the advocacy nonprofit Workplace Fairness, called smoker hiring bans “problematic.”  He added, “Someone who uses tobacco could potentially have some form of disability.  I would argue that these types of bans have to be reasoned.”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has referred to nicotine-free hiring “discrimination” which specifically falls under a category of “lifestyle discrimination.”

“Should an employer be able to forbid an employee from going skiing?  Or riding a bicycle?  Or sunbathing on a Saturday afternoon?” an ACLU legislative briefing stated. “All of these activities entail a health risk.”

U-Haul employs 30,000 people with 4,000 at its headquarters alone and said its recent policy change will not apply to existing workers.  Rather, U-Haul will screen new hires and require them to consent to future drug testing for nicotine.

“Individuals seeking U-Haul jobs in the aforementioned 21 states will see statements regarding the nicotine-free hiring policy on applications, and will be questioned about nicotine use,” the company said in a release. “In states where testing is allowed, applicants must consent to submit to nicotine screening in the future to be considered.”

“This policy is a responsible step in fostering a culture of wellness at U-Haul, with the goal of helping our Team Members on their health journey,” Chief of Staff Jessica Lopez said. “We are deeply invested in the well-being of our Team Members.  Nicotine products are addictive and pose a variety of serious health risks.  This policy is a responsible step in fostering a culture of wellness at U-Haul.”


U-Haul’s Nicotine-Free Hiring Rule Reflects A Trend That Troubles Workers’ Advocates

U-Haul will no longer hire smokers in 21 states

Join the conversation!