business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

It made news at the end of last week when U-Haul announced that in the 21 states where it is legally allowed to do so, it will no longer hire nicotine users, saying that it wants to promote “a culture of wellness,” and have a healthier workforce.

I'd guess that it also almost certainly will help the company get lower insurance rates, and save it some healthcare money. Not that this is a bad thing. It may be gravy, but it'll be tasty gravy.

The decision also generated some controversy. Not surprisingly.

The Washington Post writes that "prospective job applicants in 21 states where companies are allowed to refrain from hiring nicotine-using individuals can expect to see the anti-nicotine policy on job applications and to be questioned about their nicotine use, according to the company. They can also be required to undergo nicotine screening to be deemed hirable in states where testing is allowed … U-Haul will grandfather in current workers who might be nicotine users. The company offers nicotine cessation assistance to employees."

But … there is an argument that this may be more punishing than encouraging, since the policy is said to exclude from employment even people who are using nicotine-based smoking cessation products. And some say that it is at least mildly hypocritical for U-Haul to ban the hiring of people who are addicted to nicotine when it has coffee - which can lead to caffeine-addiction - in its offices, and isn't banning people who drink alcohol and could be addicted to it.

I cannot say I blame U-Haul for the decision. Beyond the fact that I am assiduously anti-smoking, I do think that companies have a right to do what they can to assure that their workforces are as healthy as possible. And unlike coffee and alcohol, tobacco and its various delivery systems have been engineered to addict people to something that is likely to eventually kill them.

I suspect that someone will challenge this, on the grounds that while tobacco may be addictive and potentially lethal, it also is legal. Which eventually, I'd guess, will call into question the laws in the 21 states that don't prohibit such moves … and maybe those in the 29 that do. It'll be interesting to see how the judiciary makes these decisions.

Regardless … this is an Eye-Opening move by U-Haul. And I wonder if we'll see more of this going forward as smoking and smokers get marginalized.
KC's View: