European Commission Says Employers can Refuse to Hire Smokers

August 7, 2006 ( - The European Commission has determined that anti-discrimination legislation does not cover tobacco users.

The Irish Times reports that Vladimir Spidla, the EU commissioner for employment and equal opportunities, said a job advertisement saying “smokers need not apply” did not breach European law. He said his decision was confirmed by Commission lawyers.

In his written reply to European Parliament member Catherine Stihler, Spidla said, “EU anti-discrimination law only prohibits discrimination on the grounds of racial or ethnic origin, disability, age, sexual orientation and religion, belief in employment and other fields.” Stihler had taken up the case on behalf of Dotcom Directories, which placed the job advertisement in May.

According to Philip Tobin, the director of Dotcom Directories, smokers were anti-social and took too much sick leave. He also said the smell from smokers returning after smoke breaks would be “unbearable” to staff and the fact smokers ignore warnings about the dangers of smoking shows “they haven’t got the level of intelligence that I am looking for.”

“We all know employers discriminate on all sorts of grounds, from being too fat to [having] the wrong color hair,” said Simon Clark, director of FOREST, a British pro-smoking pressure group. “But for it to be so overt is depressing and shows that smokers are fair game … Who will be next? People who drink?”

The 6 th US Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that a US employer had the right to modify its policy to completely ban workplace smoking (See Ohio Firm Wins Workplace Smoking Rules Dispute ). Some employers have instituted a health care plan surcharge for employees who smoke (See Northwest to Kick off Smoker Health Coverage Surcharge ).