Is it the boss's business if you have a cigarette after dinner? After an Irish job ad stipulated that "smokers need not apply," that question was put to the European Commission, which decided that employers refusing to hire smokers do not breach European antidiscrimination laws.
"The Commission can legislate on age, disability, sexual orientation, religion, race and gender," says Commission spokesperson Katharina von Schnurbein. "For all other areas, it's the member state's responsibility." Critics fumed that though some countries, such as France and Belgium, have laws requiring employers to hire on qualifications alone, the Commission is doing nothing to stop growing numbers of employers from prying into the lifestyles of potential recruits.
The Geneva-based World Health Organization launched a hiring ban on smokers in December 2005, the same month Sophie Blinham was fired just minutes into her new job at an English data communications firm after admitting she smoked. Von Schnurbein insists the Commission's decision is not "a green light for employers to discriminate," but Tom Jenkins of the European Trade Union Confederation disagrees. "This opens the possibility for all kinds of discriminations," he says, citing the obese and alcoholics. The Dublin Internet entrepreneur who placed the ad, Philip Tobin, was quoted as saying that smokers "stink."
If you eat a pungent lunch, says Jenkins, "you might stink, too."