Thursday, November 04, 2010

Massachusetts Hospital Association Says "Smokers Need Not Apply"

According to a WBUR story, the Massachusetts Hospital Association (MHA) will no longer consider smokers for employment with the organization starting January 1.

According to the article: "For Lynn Nicholas, president and CEO of the MHA, this is personal. “I have lost my own father and many, many of my beloved relatives to smoke and secondhand smoke,” Nicholas said. The association says refusing to hire employees who use tobacco of any kind is an extension of its no smoking policy in and around the office. “We’re basically saying this is not an environment that we want in the future, so we’re not going to add individuals who use tobacco to our workforce,” she said. Nicholas hopes to become a model for hospitals in her association and other employers."

The Rest of the Story

The CEO of the Massachusetts Hospital Association states that the policy is justified because she has lost relatives due to smoking and secondhand smoke and wants to create a healthier workforce by not adding individuals who use tobacco.

But many of us have lost relatives due to obesity, to which a lack of exercise and poor nutrition contributed. Is the MHA also going to refuse to add individuals to its workforce who are obese, or who eat more calories than they expend through exercise? In Massachusetts, about 21% of residents are obese. Will the MHA limit employment opportunities with the Association to the 79% of Massachusetts residents who are not obese, and exclude the other 21% from employment?

Many of us have also lost relatives due to their failure to wear seat belts. In fact, in Massachusetts, only 66% of residents wear seat belts. Is the MHA also going to refuse to add individuals to its workforce who do not wear seat belts? Will the MHA limit employment opportunities with the Association to the 66% of Massachusetts residents who wear seat belts, and exclude the other 34% from employment?

Some of use have lost relatives due to their failure to have smoke detectors in their homes. Will the MHA also refuse employment to individuals who don't have smoke detectors in their homes?

Many individuals in Massachusetts use tanning salons, and research shows that the ultraviolet rays produced in tanning salons are much more powerful than those from the sun. The risk of skin cancer is therefore higher. Many people have lost loved ones due to melanoma. Will the Massachusetts Hospital Association also exclude from employment individuals who regularly use tanning salons?

Some researchers have concluded that excessive driver speed is the primary cause of the majority of motor vehicle crashes. Is the MHA going to throw into the garbage the applications from individuals who regularly drive at excessive speeds, or who have a history of motor vehicle accidents?

According to the article, the Massachusetts Hospital Association has made it clear that it has no intention of addressing any other personal behaviors that cause disease and death: "Nicholas said she has no plans to restrict hiring based on any other criteria." Thus, smoking is being singled out as the only behavior upon which the MHA will discriminate in its employment practices.

This suggests that a concern for the health of the workforce is not actually the driving force behind the policy. If it were, one would expect the MHA to address all the important behaviors that contribute to an unhealthy workforce. Instead, the MHA is just singling out one. Perhaps the real reason for the policy, then, is intolerance of the decision made by smokers and a desire to punish them for this decision by making it impossible for them to secure employment.

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