Monday, November 22, 2010

Two More Hospitals Will Refuse to Hire Smokers in Order to Promote Health and Wellness

Last week, two more hospitals joined the apparently rapidly growing trend of employers - especially hospitals and health care systems - refusing to offer employment to smokers, regardless of their qualifications for the job:
The policies in both hospitals call for job applications from anyone who uses tobacco products to be thrown in the garbage. Existing employees who smoke will not be terminated, however.

The St. Francis Medical Center noted that the purpose of its policy is to promote an environment and culture of health and wellness: "Because it is important for health care providers to promote a healthy environment and lifestyle, effective January 1, 2011, Saint Francis Medical Center has a nicotine-free hiring policy."

The purpose of the Anna Jacques Hospital policy is: "To take further steps in preserving and improving the health of all of our employees."

The Rest of the Story

If these hospitals were truly interested in promoting an atmosphere and culture of health and wellness and were willing to engage in employment discrimination in order to achieve it, then why are neither of these employers refusing to hire obese or overweight individuals? If the point is to preserve and improve the health of the workforce, then refusing to hire obese persons would be a step in the right direction, no?

The precise justification for the no-smokers policy - promoting healthy lifestyles - would also apply to refusing to hire individuals who are overweight or obese, or who engage in a number of other unhealthy behaviors, such as eating a poor diet, failing to get enough physical activity, not wearing seat belts, using tanning salons, and eating excessive quantities of Vienna Fingers.

That these hospitals are singling out smokers suggests that the true reason behind the policies is that they simply cannot tolerate the lifestyle decisions of smokers. In other words, this employment discrimination is actually a manifestation of bigotry, rather than public health promotion.

I don't understand how it sets a "good example" to refuse employment to smokers. In just what way is engaging in employment discrimination a good example? Why is hiring people based on the group to which they belong, when that group membership has no relevance to their qualifications for employment, a good example?

These hospitals are not genuinely interested in a healthy work environment. What they are interested in is selectively discriminating against smokers by tying employment to lawful, private health behavior that has no direct relationship to job qualifications. They are interested in selectively interfering in employee privacy, going so far as to demand the submission of bodily fluids in order to document a personal behavior choice that a person makes in his own home which has no bearing on his ability to perform his job duties.

Instead of applauding such actions, anti-smoking groups should speak out against this form of employment discrimination. The appropriate way to reduce health care costs related to smoking is to offer workplace wellness programs, including smoking cessation programs and benefits. Such programs have been shown to be cost-effective. Refusing to hire people with unhealthy behaviors is not an appropriate public health approach to the problem.

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