Japanese companies aim to hire non-smokers to boost productivity

13 May 2019

While companies are prohibited from discriminating against applicants based on gender or disabilities, the Health, Labour and Welfare Ministry determined such protections do not apply to smokers

Domestic firms are taking stronger action against tobacco use, going so far as to avoid hiring smokers in some cases.

The moves come amid greater emphasis on promoting employees’ health, limiting exposure to passive smoking and boosting productivity by eliminating “smoking breaks.”

Some, however, are questioning whether the latest initiatives go too far beyond existing anti-smoking efforts, such as the designation of smoking areas.

“Combating smoking is the same as a strategy through which companies can remake themselves,” said Yasuhiro Oba, president of life insurance company, Sompo Japan Nipponkoa Himawari after the inauguration ceremony for a corporate consortium to promote anti-smoking measures held in Tokyo last month.

More than 20 companies and groups convened for the initiative. 

Sompo has stepped up promotion of an insurance service that helps policyholders maintain good health, while refusing to hire new graduates who smoke for its staff entering in spring 2020. The company’s corporate officers and others in high-level positions must also sign a document stating they will “not smoke during work hours” before assuming their posts.

Hoshino Resorts Inc. likewise requires recruits to sign a pledge to not smoke after joining the company.

Rohto Pharmaceutical Co. aims to eliminate all smoking at work among employees by 2020. Employees who successfully quit smoking receive tokens that can be used at the cafeteria and elsewhere in the company.

Academia has also moved to limit tobacco consumption. Nagasaki Universitywill not hire faculty members who smoke to protect students and other members from secondhand smoking. The university confirms during interviews whether candidates smoke. If they do, they will only be hired if they promise to quit smoking.

Oita University has decided to give preference to non-smokers when appointing faculty.

The Health, Labour and Welfare Ministry has also weighed in on such hiring practices. While companies are prohibited from discriminating against applicants based on gender or disabilities, the ministry determined such protections do not apply to smokers.

Pfizer Japan Inc. took a cautious approach before amending its hiring policies, first consulting with lawyers. After concluding that a policy to not hire smokers was relevant to its business activities, Pfizer last month ceased hiring mid-career workers who smoke. It also stopped promoting contract workers to regular employees if they smoke, and will not hire new graduates who smoke for its staff entering in spring 2020.

According to lawyer Yujiro Yoshimura, who specialises in labour issues, companies have the right to “freedom of employment” and will continue to act against smokers, especially with public opinion on their side. However, he cautioned that “firms might be going overboard if their rules apply to employees’ personal time, in addition to working hours.”

The Washington Post