A Proposed Kentucky Law Would Allow Employers To Discriminate Against Smokers

'At this time in the state's history to have smokers as a protected class is just ridiculous.'

a man holds a cigarette by his waist
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'At this time in the state's history to have smokers as a protected class is just ridiculous.'

A Kentucky lawmaker has proposed a bill that would allow employers to decline to hire people simply because they smoke tobacco, WDRB-TV (Louisville) is reporting.

Republican State Senator John Schickel pre-filed the bill Thursday while the Kentucky legislature is out of session, essentially meaning that it will be among the first things the legislature tackles when it reconvenes next year. The bill would remove tobacco smoking from a list of things Kentucky employers cannot discriminate against employees for – a list that, like similar lists in other states, includes such things as religion, creed, and national origin, among others.

Schickel says that, as a small-government Republican, he sees no reason for a law telling Kentucky business owners whom they can and can’t hire – at least when it comes to a personal choice like smoking tobacco.

“At this time in the state’s history to have smokers as a protected class is just ridiculous.”

He has support, too. Louisville development advocacy group Greater Louisville, Inc. also supports removing smokers from the list of protected classes, as does the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.

“This law forbids employers from turning away a job applicant just because he/she smokes. The (Kentucky) Chamber believes this is an arbitrary and unjustified intrusion into the rights of employers.”

Why Would An Employer Want To Discriminate Against A Smoker?

There could be several reasons, from wanting to cultivate a health-minded workplace or simply because the employer is morally opposed to it. But in the main, the reason likely comes down to money. Long story short, having smokers on your payroll increases the cost of premiums all employees pay into the group health plan a business offers.

And then there are the optics, which is why several hospitals nationwide simply refuse to hire smokers, period. For an industry in the business of saving lives, and which sees firsthand on a daily basis the damage that can be wrought by smoking, to hire smokers is simply too odd of a juxtaposition.

Further, smokers cost employers money due to absenteeism from smoking-related issues to the tune of $6,000 per employee per year, says Corporate Finance News & Events.

Why Did Kentucky Write A Law To Protect Smokers In The Workplace?

Kentucky leads the nation in the percentage of adults who smoke, according to WKRC-TV (Cincinnati), and indeed, tobacco is a big employer in the state, between farming, curing, and transporting tobacco. From there, it’s not too hard to see how the state’s powerful tobacco lobby helped put such a law into place.

Kentucky, however, isn’t the only place with such a law: neighboring Indiana does as well, not to mention 27 other states, according to USA Today.