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Can being a smoker at work cost you your job?

As many people in Indiana are already well aware, there are a lot of things that employers can't do when it comes to your employment. Strict state and federal laws protect a worker's most basic rights, as well as a few others some workers may not even be aware they have.

But when discrimination occurs against a group of people who may not be protected by these state and federal laws, it begins to make people question how far companies are allowed to go and whether new laws can be enforced to further protect workers' rights as well.

Under the Equal Employment Opportunity Act, workers are protected from discrimination and termination based on age, race, sex, religion, color, or national origin. The same goes for workers with disabilities who are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act. But what about other groups of people such as those that face judgment because of something that is considered an unhealthy life choice? What type of protection do they have against discrimination?

As many have guessed, we're talking about smokers and according to many employment lawyers, smokers are not considered a protected class when it comes to discrimination. In an effort to lower healthcare premiums, many companies have made a push for healthier living, even going so far as not hiring someone because they smoke. But as some attorneys may point out, actions such as this could lead to legal disputes if this discrimination carries over into any of the protected groups of people.

Situations have cropped up in other states where a smoker has been denied employment or strong-armed out of a position. Although the company may think that they are doing so legally, if the worker feels that they are being discriminated against for say the color of their skin or suffering from a disability, that employee may feel inclined to file a lawsuit against their employer.

Despite the special circumstances that would need to be present in a lawsuit such as this, with more companies pushing for smoke-free campuses, there is the possibility that this could become an even more common occurrence in the future. Let's just hope that lawmakers have figured out a way to protect people's rights by then.

Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "Workzone: How far can businesses go in restricting smokers?" Tim Grant, March 17, 2013

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