An Ottawa-based tech company has courted attention and controversy with a policy not to hire smokers.
Momentous Corp., which owns brands including mail-order movie rental company Zip.ca, says it has a strict policy not to hire smokers. That means not only are employees not allowed to take smoke breaks, they aren’t allowed to smoke on their own time, either.
“We drink. We swear. We don’t fucking smoke,” says one of the company’s value statements. (Another one declares, “We’ve got more balls than Ikea.”)
“Everyone knows smoking kills you and we prefer to work with very intelligent people who aren't choosing to kill themselves with every puff,” Momentous President Rob Hall said, as quoted at CTV News.
Hall said the practice has slashed the costs of the company’s health care benefits and increased productivity.
“We're a team here, we work well together, we don't have people who leave spontaneously in middle of a meeting for a smoke break. We take care of our health and work well together,” marketing manager Alex Hosselet told CTV.
As the National Post noted, the company has some other hiring policies that could stir controversy: You can’t be allergic to dogs to work at Momentum, because there are dogs in the office.
But it’s the no-smokers policy that is attracting attention, because it’s part of a trend that has been growing in North America, particularly in the United States where numerous companies and even some municipal governments have instituted such a policy.
At the same time, some U.S. states have acted against no-smoker policies. According to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), 29 U.S. states have passed laws preventing the screening-out of smokers.
A hospital in Pennsylvania last year announced it would no longer hire smokers and would implement a nicotine test to enforce the policy. A network of hospitals in California recently followed suit.
But it’s not just hospitals. The municipality of Delray Beach, Florida, banned the hiring of smokers last year on the argument they add $12,000 per employee to health care costs. The city of Fort Worth, Texas, contemplated a similar rule last year.
Many critics, including some anti-smoking activists, argue the approach is wrongheaded.
"Somewhere between two thirds and three quarters of smokers, at any given time, want to quit smoking and they need help, they don't need to be penalized,” Melodie Tilson of the Non Smokers’ Rights Association told CTV.
While some critics say no-smokers policies amount to an invasion of workers’ privacy, others say policies like this could cause social problems.
The policy “results in a failure to care for people, places an additional burden on already-disadvantaged populations, and preempts interventions that more effectively promote smoking cessation,” states the NEJM study mentioned above.
The study most strongly opposed the implementation of such policies in hospitals, which certainly appears to be a trend in the U.S., calling it “paradoxical” for a place of healing to refuse to employ people suffering from an addiction.
Backers of the trend say that, besides saving money on health costs and increasing productivity, policies like these move society as a whole in the right direction.
"We have to make it uncool to smoke ... [I]t is a huge economic drain and a quality drain on the workforce as well,” TV health guru Dr. Mehmet Oz told CTV.
A separate NEJM study recently predicted that such policies would eventually become the norm.