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Are smokers treated differently in the workplace than are non-smokers?

   American Smokers Alliance

National Smokers Alliance

American Lung Association

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Could Smoking on the Job Cost
You That Promotion?

By David Armstrong   Fox Market Wire

Need another reason to quit smoking? It could kill your career.

Forget the hassles of having to go outside for a smoke during work. Smokers are used to that. And as long as you do your job, who cares?

The battle between smokers and non-smokers is growing fierce.

But increasingly, smokers say they're stigmatized by non-smoking co-workers and supervisors.

New research shows that supervisors gave higher job performance reviews to their non-smoking employees than to those who light up, while other studies found that employees respected their non-smoking supervisors more than their smoking bosses.

G. Ronald Gilbert, a business professor at Florida International University who conducted the research, attributes the findings more to social biases against smokers in the workplace, than to ability differences.

"Smokers are treated differently in the workplace than are non-smokers," said Gilbert, who does not smoke.

The professor has even gone so far as to coin the term, "smokerism," which he defines as "the unfair treatment of smokers based on a social bias."

Over the past decade, companies across the country increasingly have cracked down on smoking. Employees who once puffed away at their desks or in meetings first were herded into smoking rooms. Eventually, they were shown the door, and forced to smoke in the chilly winds of winter or the blistering heat of summer.

The quarantine occurred after studies showed that smokers cost their employers money — both in terms of increased medical costs and in lost productivity. The studies found that smokers are sick more often than non-smokers, spend more time away from their desks, and in some jobs requiring extensive physical labor, are less productive.

Numerous studies on the ill effects of breathing second-hand smoke also convinced not only corporations, but federal and state governments, to impose various smoking bans.

Today, not only do many companies prohibit smoking in the office, but some — including Lockheed Martin and Turner Broadcasting System — try not to even hire smokers, a perfectly legal practice.

And even if smokers get hired, they tend to receive lower job performance ratings than their non-smoking colleagues, according to Gilbert's study, which asked supervisors in different industries to rate their employees based on performance.

Gilbert finds this troubling because promotions and raises tend to be based on job performance, which means companies could be denying advancements to smokers.

"Just as ageism, sexism and racism are unfair organizational practices, smokerism would also be a practice that is unfair and would merit positive attention by organizational leaders," the study stated.

Gilbert believes the findings are linked to anti-smoking policies in the workplace, which put smokers at a disadvantage over their non-smoking colleagues.

For instance, smokers who take frequent smoke breaks outside the office tend to leave their work stations more often than non-smokers. That may contribute to a poor job review. Smokers also could be stigmatized because they're forced to indulge in their habit outside the building.

"You don�t take obese people and stick them outside and watch them eat donuts," Gilbert said. "But with smokers, you put them outside the building where they are together. I don�t think we are treating the smokers fairly."

But the so-called discrimination is not limited to low-level employees.

Gilbert also found that supervisors who smoked were given lower performance grades by their employees than their non-smoking counterparts.

"Certainly smokers are an unprotected class and there is discrimination against them at various levels," said Mike Hambrick, senior vice-president with the National Smokers Alliance, a consumers group representing smokers.

"The idea that people who smoke are forced to go out in the elements, sometimes 30 floors down, in the rain, sleet, snow, or heat and smoke is itself a form of discrimination."

However, non-smokers are hardly sympathetic to their nicotine-addicted colleagues. In fact, some resent the freedom smokers have to frequently pick up and leave their desks to feed their addictions.

"Smokers need to take a break because they can�t smoke at their desks," said Deb Keary with the Society for Human Resource Management. "Some non-smokers feel that they get more breaks than they do. Somebody is always going to feel like they are getting the wrong end of the stick."

To be sure, the battle between smokers and non-smokers is growing more fierce.

A Canadian arbitrator said Monday that a British Columbia company�s ban on smoking in the workplace was a violation of the country�s human rights code.

The metal company instituted the ban to protect non-smoking employees and comply with Canada�s anti-smoking regulations. Workers caught smoking on Cominco�s grounds faced discipline, including the possibility of being fired.

But maintaining that a nicotine addiction can be a physical disability, a labor arbitrator facilitating union complaints said the ban violated Canada�s laws protecting workers with physical disabilities.

Gilbert described the arbitrator�s decision as a "breakthrough."

"Here we see ourselves as a nation that really protects individual rights, and yet Canada beat us on this one," he said.

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