Firing an employee for being a smoker

At least one U.S. company has said it will terminate the employment of workers who smoke — what would happen if a Canadian employer tried a similar tactic?
By Stuart Rudner
|CHRR, Report on Healthy Workplaces|Last Updated: 04/13/2005

Can an employer refuse to hire someone because they smoke? What if that person already works for the company — can it adopt a “no smokers” policy and terminate him if he continues to be a smoker?

Some U.S. companies have recently taken the drastic step of refusing to employ people who smoke cigarettes, even if they only smoke on their own time. In most of these cases, the policy has taken the form of a refusal to hire anyone who is a smoker. In at least one case, however, the company has gone so far as to adopt a policy of terminating smokers who do not quit by a specified date.

The motive behind these decisions is simple: money. The evidence suggests smokers are less productive, more prone to absenteeism and more costly to insure. Employing only non-smokers will reduce health-care costs and increase productivity. It could also improve the morale of non-smokers who feel colleagues get away with taking more breaks to go outside and smoke.