Analysis: The Legality of Workplace No-Smoking Policies

Jan. 13, 2020
U-Haul won't hire nicotine users in 21 states moving forward, in a move that has caught the attention of some that work within automotive repair facilities. 

Jan. 10, 2020—According to a recent Associated Press report, U-Haul won't hire nicotine users in 21 states moving forward. 

And, that decision has opened eyes throughout the business world, including at body shops. 

U-Haul applicants will reportedly be asked if they use nicotine products, and those hired in 21 particular states will need to agree to be screened for nicotine use in the future. The 21 states where it is legal to make such a workplace ruling include: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington. 

FenderBender reached out to labor lawyers in the states impacted by U-Haul's new policy, which will go into effect on Feb. 1, to gauge any potential for legal ramifications. 

"From the employer's perspective, enacting this policy is a manageable risk," wrote Joshua Robbins and Darshana Indira, lawyers with the Maura Greene Law Group in Boston. "U-Haul is a large company and likely its attorneys feel confident implementing this policy in Massachusetts, given the state's current laws. 

"It has been and will likely continue to be an uphill battle for employees who use nicotine products, until there is specific state legislation protecting them. In Massachusetts, that's not the case," the lawyers added in their email to the magazine. 

Roger Hutcheon, a body shop owner with 20 employees in Utah, has had a no-smoking policy at his business for nearly 7 years. He feels it has served his two shops well, and that much of his staff has had no issue with the policy. 

When Hutcheon initially implemented the no-smoking ban at Basin Collision Repair in northeast Utah, employees responded with "tears," the shop owner joked. "But I'm adamant about no smoking. I don't let (employees) smoke anywhere on the premises. There was a little bit of pushback, but not much. It was really something I wasn't going to budge on. 

"If I picked my car up from a shop and the inside smelled like smoke, I'd be unhappy." 

U-Haul's no-smoking policy won't apply to employees hired before Feb. 1. The Phoenix-based company, which says it implemented the new ruling to encourage employees' health, has more than 30,000 workers. Such no-smoking policies aren't entirely new, either; Alaska Airlines has had such a policy since 1985 to address health care costs, the AP noted. 

"I think most of the younger generation understands it," Hutcheon said of employers' growing preference for smoke-free businesses.