Recently I finished what I thought was a great interview. I had a lot of experience with the company, I answered their questions well and we appeared to hit it off. I did not get the job. One of the interviewers asked me if I smoked, and I do. They sighed and wrote something down. My friend told me that some companies do not hire smokers. Is that true? Are they even allowed to ask me that question?
Yes, it is true that some companies will not hire smokers and yes, they are legally allowed to answer that question (in most states). In general, interview questions about someone’s personal life are not allowed. You cannot ask someone if they are trying to get pregnant, for example, because it is not the business of the company to hire or not hire based on someone’s personal life choices.
However, smoking is an entirely different case. Though some lawmakers in some cities are trying to make it illegal to not hire smokers, currently there are very few laws that protect smokers from being discriminated against during the hiring process.
This may seem unfair, and in many ways it is, but you have to look at it from an employer’s perspective as well:
- Employing smokers can drive up health insurance costs for the company. Your employment is worth X amount of dollars to the company. If your smoking costs them more money, your employment will no longer make financial sense.
- Heavy smokers tend to take more breaks, leading to less productivity.
- Some companies cannot risk the hazards of employing smokers. Hospitals have sick patients that should not be around cigarette smoke. Gas stations cannot risk an employee throwing out a cigarette onto spilled gas.
There are some legitimate reasons that companies do not want to employ smokers. While you may be sure that your smoking will not affect the bottom line or safety of the workplace, the employer may not share that belief.
How to Answer Interview Questions about Smoking
Unfortunately, the best way to answer an interview question about smoking is with honesty. If you lie and you are caught, that is grounds for dismissal. You may also want to consider attempting to quit. This will allow you to tell the employer that you are currently quitting smoking, which should negate any concern.
There are some states where questions about smoking are illegal, but lawsuits against these claims will be difficult to win. Your best bet is to simply recognize why employers may not hire smokers and hope that you find one that will.
Take Away Interview Tips
- Employers can choose not to hire you simply because you smoke.
- Your best bet is to quit smoking.