Healthy hiring (at a cost to diversity?)

I recently interviewed for a position with a fast-growing startup in food tech. The position checked all my boxes, and because I didn’t make it past the interview stage, the following may be some sour grapes 🍇.

Something in the text of the job posting stood out to me, and has stuck with me the past few months:

No smoking: You never smell like cigarettes and don’t smoke during the day: XYZ is about healthy living.

And because this is Switzerland, also in German:

Nichtraucher: XYZ ist eine Nichtraucher Firma, weshalb das Rauchen während der Arbeitszeit nicht erlaubt ist und Du nie nach Rauch riechen darfst.

and even in French:

Non-fumeur : XYZ est une société “non-fumeur”. Par conséquent fumer durant les heures de travail n’est pas autorisé, tout comme sentir la fumée.

Is hiring only non-smokers a form of discrimination?

What if instead the job posting had written our company is about healthy living, and we don’t hire overweight people? Or people with body odor due to hormonal or hygiene issues? Or people who eat junk food? Or people who drink excessive energy drinks?

At what point does healthy hiring become discrimination? I would say that forcing people to hide their behavior, and to not be themselves, in order to gain employment, is a mild form of discrimination. And if it’s not discrimination, it’s definitely a step toward decreasing diversity in the workplace.

Now… I’m not a cigarette smoker, and I don’t like smelling cigarette smoke, and I don’t want to be exposed to cigarette smoke at work. But I also want a diverse work environment, where people are comfortable to be themselves. I accept that my co-workers may smoke cigarettes, even during working hours. Life is full of small differences and grievances and part of being a human being, especially when living in a city with so many other human beings, is accepting others as they are, and letting them be free to be themselves.


Update: Here’s a more scholarly take on the ethics of not hiring smokers.

“The Ethics of Not Hiring Smokers”, New England Journal of Medicine (2013)


We agree with those polled, believing that categorically refusing to hire smokers is unethical: it 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.

Philip Shemella
Philip Shemella

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