Many employers require job applicants to pass a pre-employment drug test before they can begin working. The basic drug test, called a five-panel drug screen, checks for five different illegal drugs, including marijuana and cocaine. However, testing labs also have the capability to test for nicotine, the drug found in cigarettes and other tobacco products. Since cigarettes are legal and do not adversely impact someone's ability to do a job physically or mentally, you might wonder whether your employer can require you to pass a test for nicotine and whether you can be denied a job if you smoke cigarettes. The answer depends on a number of factors, including the employee.
Types of Drug Screens
Employers may require job applicants to take and pass a pre-employment drug screen before they can join the workforce. These drug screens can include testing for nicotine, the main drug in cigarettes and other tobacco products. According to the nonprofit organization Workplace Fairness, some states require employers to disclose in job postings that applicants must pass a pre-employment drug screen. However, these states do not require employers to disclose that the drug test will check for nicotine use. Once you land a job, you are less likely to be tested for nicotine use. If your employer wants to adopt a smoke-free policy, it might let you enter a smoking cessation program where you have access to counseling and prescription drugs that curb the desire to smoke. The most common drug testing methods are urine testing and hair testing. Both will show nicotine use, but hair testing is more of a concern. A hair test will show nicotine use over a 90-day period. However, hair testing only produces a positive result if you have used nicotine on a regular basis.
Where you live might determine whether your employer has the right to test you for nicotine and deny you a job if you test positive for the drug. In the 1980s and ‘90s, several states filed suit against companies that denied applicants a job merely because they were smokers. This resulted in new laws in 29 states plus the District of Columbia. Laws vary from state to state. In some states, no employer can deny someone a job based on nicotine use consistent with smoking cigarettes. However, some of the 29 states allow nonprofit groups and health care industry employers to refuse jobs to individuals who smoke. In the remaining 21 states, employers can deny you a job if you smoke cigarettes or if you test positive for nicotine use during a drug screen.
According to a 2012 story in "USA Today," an increasing number of employers have adopted smoke-free hiring practices and do not hire employees who smoke. This is partly because of the negative perception of smoking. Also, some employers have noted customer and client complaints about employees whose clothing carries the odor of cigarette smoke. The most likely companies to establish smoke-free hiring policies are those in the health care industry. Hospitals top the list, but other businesses, including some casinos, are turning away smokers as well. Additionally, concerns about rising health insurance premiums have led some employers to establish smoke-free workplaces and hiring practices in an effort to control insurance premiums. Insurers may lower health care insurance rates for companies that do not hire smokers.
Federal laws prohibit employers from using discriminatory hiring practices. These laws include the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Equal Pay Act of 1963. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforces these laws. According to the EEOC, the laws do not apply to smokers, who are not considered a protected class. Thus, employers are free to deny jobs to individuals based on nicotine-free hiring. Keep in mind that using nicotine-based prescription drugs might result in a positive test for nicotine use. If you have a prescription for a drug with nicotine in it, you should disclose this and provide a copy of your prescription before the lab administers the test.
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