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Can a Maryland employer refuse to hire you because you smoke?

More U.S. hospitals and health companies are refusing to hire smokers--in efforts to foster a healthy workplace and keep insurance costs down--but is this practice legal? Or, is it workplace discrimination?

The answer is that, for now, it depends on what state you are trying to find a job in. Since companies started implementing these hiring policies, 29 states and the District of Columbia have passed smoker-protection statutes that essentially outlaw such practices, as of January. However, Maryland is not among them and in January of this year the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said businesses can in fact refuse to hire smokers.

Earlier this week, the Detroit Medical Center announced that it would now test job applicants to see whether they smoke. Those who are found to be smokers will not be hired. Current smokers will not be fired, but they will be encouraged to quit, according to the company's announcement.

Several health care organizations within Michigan already have bans on hiring smokers, as the state has not passed any law to add smokers as a protected class.

Those who fail the nicotine urine test can reapply three months later if they quit smoking, according to the organization.

This remains a very new issue in employment law, and the employment rights of smokers could certainly change as states begin to tackle this issue. Of course, everyone knows that smoking causes premature death all over the country and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said that smoking results in almost $200 billion in health costs and lost productivity each year.

As the anti-smoking campaigns have grown stronger over time, with many municipalities banning smoking in contained spaces like restaurants, the U.S. is seeing fewer and fewer adults smoking. In 1965, almost 43 percent of adults smoked, and in 2011 that number was down to 19.3 percent.

Nonetheless, it does not matter how low this number continues to shrink when it comes to rights in hiring and employment. As we noted, 29 states, including Virginia, have passed laws to protect the hiring of smokers.

Source: Detroit Free Press, "Detroit Medical Center will not hire smokers, plans to test applicants for smoking," Patricia Anstett and Robin Erb, June 13, 2012

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