Removing Smokers as a Protected Class of Employees

Working hard for better business health

According to federal law, employers cannot discriminate based on personal characteristics such as weight, marital status or disability. However, there is no federal law declaring smokers as a protected class. Smoking costs Oklahoma businesses an estimated $5,816 per smoker per year. In most states, businesses can avoid these costs by passing policies that restrict tobacco use at work.

Not in Oklahoma. Under a law passed in the early 90s with the help of the tobacco industry, employers:

  • Cannot require that employees be non-smokers.
  • Are limited in their ability to support a smokefree workplace environment.

These laws protecting the harmful practice of smoking are an outdated, unnecessary protection put in place years ago by the tobacco industry.

Removing smokers as a protected class of employees is better for employers, employees and customers. State law shouldn’t limit an employer’s ability to support smokefree environments.

Business Benefits

A tobacco-free workplace is good for business for several reasons. It eliminates exposure to secondhand smoke, which leads to happier customers and healthier employees.

Smokers miss twice as many days of work per year due to sickness compared to nonsmokers
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Improving workplace health also makes sense from a cost perspective. A healthier workforce means reduced healthcare costs and absenteeism, increased productivity and morale, more profitability and a better work environment.

Why It Matters

Employers who support smokefree environments should have the ability to decide on the qualifications for employees, not the tobacco industry. Many employers have smokefree, tobacco-free policies during business hours, and support employee efforts to quit. Employers should have the ability to make policies that support customers, patients and workplace wellness. It’s time to remove unnecessary laws that protect a deadly behavior.

The majority of Oklahomans support tobacco-free businesses, and they recognize secondhand smoke as a major health hazard.

Antiquated laws are negatively affecting employers, employees and customers. Time to do something about it.

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