Minnesota law provides that an employer may not refuse to hire, discipline, or discharge a job applicant or employee who engages in the use of “lawful consumable products” (including tobacco) off the employer’s premises during nonworking hours. See Minn. Stat. § 181.938. This statute is commonly referred to as the Consumable Products Act (the “CPA”).
The CPA applies to all employers in the State of Minnesota except the State of Minnesota itself, political or governmental subdivisions, and certain transportation employers subject to the Federal Railway Act (this would include railroads and airlines). See Minn. Stat. § 181.938, subd. 1; Minn. Stat. § 179.01, subd. 3.
Under the CPA, the term “lawful consumable products” means “products whose use or enjoyment is lawful and which are consumed during use or enjoyment, and includes food, alcoholic or nonalcoholic beverages, and tobacco.” Minn. Stat. § 181.938, subd. 2.
The CPA provides that “[a]n employer may not refuse to hire a job applicant or discipline or discharge an employee because the applicant or employee engages in or has engaged in the use or enjoyment of lawful consumable products, if the use or enjoyment takes place off the premises of the employer during nonworking hours.” Minn. Stat. § 181.938, subd. 2.
There are several exceptions in the CPA. First, the CPA provides that an employer may restrict the use of lawful consumable products by employees during nonworking hours under either of the following circumstances:
(1) if the employer’s restriction relates to a bona fide occupational requirement and is reasonably related to employment activities or responsibilities of a particular employee or group of employees; or
(2) if the employer’s restriction is necessary to avoid a conflict of interest or the appearance of a conflict of interest with any responsibilities owed by the employee to the employer.
Minn. Stat. § 181.938, subd. 3(a).
Second, the CPA provides that it is not a violation of the act for an employer to refuse to hire an applicant or discipline or discharge an employee who refuses or fails to comply with the conditions established by a chemical dependency treatment or aftercare program. Minn. Stat. § 181.938, subd. 3(b).
Third, the CPA provides that it is not a violation of the act for an employer to refuse to hire an applicant or discipline or discharge an employee on the basis of the applicant’s or employee’s past or present job performance. Minn. Stat. § 181.938, subd. 3(d). Thus, an employer may lawfully discharge an employee for poor attendance or job performance, even if related to or caused by drinking off the employer’s premises during non-working hours.
Fourth, the CPA provides that it is not a violation of the act for an employer to offer, impose, or have in effect a health or life insurance plan that makes distinctions between employees for the type of coverage or the cost of coverage based upon the employee’s use of lawful consumable products, provided that, to the extent that different premium rates are charged to the employees, those rates must reflect the actual differential cost to the employer. Minn. Stat. § 181.938, subd. 3(c).
If an employer has refused to hire you because you are a smoker, you may have a claim under the CPA. The CPA provides that the sole remedy for a violation of subdivision 2 is a civil action for damages. Damages are limited to wages and benefits lost by the individual because of the violation. Minn. Stat. § 181.938, subd. 4. The CPA further provides that “[a] court shall award the prevailing party in the action, whether plaintiff or defendant, court costs and a reasonable attorney fee.” Minn. Stat. § 181.938, subd. 4 (emphasis added).
Feel free to contact our law firm if you would like to discuss this further. We are located in Minneapolis, Minnesota and all of our attorneys are licensed in Minnesota.
Craig W. Trepanier, Esq.
Minnesota Employment Attorney
As with all of my answers, this posting is not intended as legal advice, does not create an attorney-client relationship, should not be relied upon due to the limited facts and space available, and is not a substitute for individual legal advice from your own attorney after a full consultation.
I am a California attorney and cannot give legal advice in your state. My comments are information only, based on federal law and general legal principles. YOUR STATE MAY HAVE ITS OWN LAWS THAT OFFER SIMILAR OR GREATER PROTECTION. If I mention your state’s laws, it only means I did a quick Internet search and found something that looked relevant. You MUST check with an attorney licensed in your state to learn your rights.
There is nothing illegal about this. Employers are entitled to hire based on their preferences unless those preferences are based on an unlawful characteristic, such as sex, race, religion, disability, etc.
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