U-Haul International drew widespread commentary and some criticism for its recent announcement that it will no longer hire applicants that use tobacco products. The company justified the move on the basis that it encourages healthier habits, while critics accused U-Haul of trying to minimize medical plan expenses. Both sides in this debate may have missed exceptions to the U-Haul policy for states like North Carolina and South Carolina that specifically prohibit employers from adopting these hiring practices.
Both states and others, particularly in the South, adopted so-called “lawful products” statues in the 1990s. These laws were passed in reaction to an initial wave of employers that began to enact policies that prohibited employees from using tobacco products. While these statutes vary from state to state, in general they prohibit employers from discriminating against persons who use tobacco or other lawful products outside of work. The laws do not restrict employers from banning smoking on the job, and most provide a mechanism for charging higher group medical insurance premiums for tobacco users.
The U-Haul policy specifically states that it will not apply in states where such practices are prohibited by law. Employers considering similar policies should consult local legal requirements before implementing measures that impact employees’ lifestyle choices.