Tallahassee City Commissioner: Smokers Need Not Apply

Jul 9, 2013

A looming $5 million budget shortfall means Tallahassee commissioners are looking to make cuts anywhere they can. Some commissioners suggest avoiding a certain group of people as a cost-saving measure.

“If you smoke cigarettes, it’s bad for you, it leads to cancer, it leads to lung cancer, [and] it leads to heart disease," said Tallahassee City Commissioner Scott Maddox. “It’s an elective choice that you have made. I don’t think that if you’ve made that choice you ought to be eligible for hire at the City of Tallahassee.”

He said when employees light up, it raises healthcare costs and he doesn’t want taxpayers to, “foot the bill for someone else’s bad choices.” But, if adopted, the proposal would only apply to new hires.

Some like Tallahassee healthcare attorney John Buchanan, think Maddox’s reasoning is a little dicey. He said in order to justify not hiring a smoker; employers should have to show it affects their productivity.

“Well, I think you’d have to look at job performance and have to have a causal relationship between the activity and job performance, or the type of job the potential employee is seeking,” Buchanan said.

But, Christopher Lunny, with the Radey Law Firm in Tallahassee said the matter has already been settled in Florida.

“Since 1995 the Florida Supreme Court looked at this issue and decided that municipalities can preclude smokers from their payroll and being employed by the cities,” Lunny pointed out.

Fast-forward ten years and several Florida cities, including Hollywood and Atlantic Beach have done just that. Employers in those municipalities can ask perspective workers to sign an affidavit swearing they haven’t smoked in the past year. Meanwhile, 29 states have laws on the books forbidding employers to turn away prospective applicants who use tobacco. Tallahassee’s commissioners will take up the issue with the city’s budget office Wednesday.