FL County Tells Smoking Applicants: Do Not Apply

May 27, 2008 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A Southwest Florida county government has joined the list of employers refusing to hire smokers because of the employees' increased risk of health problems.

TheSarasota Herald Tribune reported that Sarasota County officials cited Centers for Disease Control research estimating the annual cost of hiring a smoker at $3,400 in lost productivity and medical expenses.

According to the news report, prospective new hires will now be required to undergo a drug test for nicotine and sign a statement they have not smoked in the last 12 months. Existing employees will be encouraged to join free stop smoking classes.

Sarasota County Administrator Jim Ley told the newspaper the new hiring policy great out of “a five- or six-year strategy to produce a healthier work force and manage our long-term health care costs.” The county now pays about $31 million annually in health benefits for 3,600 employees.

Ley said 15% of the county’s employees with severe illnesses account for 85% of the health care costs.

The Herald Tribune said Florida local government agencies that refuse to hire smokers include the sheriff’s offices in Hernando, Hillsborough and Pasco Counties and the city of Atlantic Beach.

Smoking workers for neighboring Manatee County must pay more for the best health care coverage and attend a class about smoking. The county is also exploring ways to get more people to quit, Manatee County Administrator Ed Hunzeker, told the newspaper

The Herald Tribune said the right for Florida employers not to hire employees who smoke was upheld by a 1995 ruling of the state Supreme Court. An applicant sued the city of North Miami arguing that an anti-smoker policy violated her privacy.

In that case, the city argued that each smoker cost taxpayers $4,611 (in 1981 dollars) annually because of medical bills, the news report said.