Thursday, March 31, 2011

Hospital that Refuses to Hire Smokers Lacks Understanding of What Employment Discrimination Is; Policy is Politically-Based, Not Health-Based

Michigan hospital which discriminates against smokers in employment does not even admit that it is discriminating, according to an article in the Detroit News.

According to the article: "Crittenton, which hires 200 to 250 new employees each year, feels confident its policy does not discriminate, Kapuscinski [Crittenton's director of marketing and communications] said. "Several courts have upheld there's no constitutional right to smoke," said Kapuscinski, who expects more Metro Detroit hospitals to follow Crittenton's lead. "We felt very comfortable that we were not discriminating."

Crittenton is one of three Michigan hospitals that not only refuse to hire smokers, but will also not hire any applicant who uses nicotine in any form, including nicotine replacement therapy and electronic cigarettes. The other two are ProMedica Hospital (two different locations).

ProMedica Hospital's policy states that its purpose is to "foster a healthier work force, as well as to demonstrate to our patients and the community our strong commitment to health and wellness. ProMedica is asking our employees to model — and benefit from — the same healthy behaviors we promote to our patients and the community. Employee applicants are asked about the use of tobacco and nicotine replacement, and are screened for nicotine before they are hired. Applicants who declare use or screen positive for nicotine may reapply for a position after they have been tobacco/nicotine-free for 90 days."

The Rest of the Story

It is one thing to discriminate against a group of people and to justify that discrimination on health or economic grounds. It is another thing to deny that you are even discriminating.

In this case, Crittenton Hospital is discriminating against smokers, but doesn't even admit that it is discriminating against them.

Clearly, Crittenton doesn't understand the definition of employment discrimination. This is quite unfortunate, and irresponsible, because every employer should understand what employment discrimination is.

Employment discrimination is defined as making hiring decisions based on the group to which an applicant belongs, when that group membership has no direct bearing on the applicant's bona fide qualifications for the job.

For example, if I refuse to hire people on the basis of their race or religion, it constitutes employment discrimination because I am systematically denying employment to applicants based on the group to which they belong, and that group membership has no bearing on their job qualifications. If I refuse to hire people who weigh more than 200 pounds, that is also employment discrimination, unless the individual's weight has a direct bearing on his or her job qualifications. If I refuse to hire people who use nicotine, that is also employment discrimination.

I would have a lot more respect for Crittenton if it at least admitted that it is engaged in employment discrimination, but that it is a legal form of discrimination. To argue that its policy does not discriminate against smokers demonstrates a lack of understanding of what discrimination is, and that is troubling.

It is true that employment discrimination against smokers is perfectly legal in 21 states. Fine, but if you are going to discriminate, at least have the understanding to call it discrimination.

That the policy of these hospitals is that not only are smokers denied employment, but also anyone who uses nicotine, including people who are trying to quit smoking, demonstrates that these policies are not health-based, but political statements. They are merely expressing an ideological (essentially a political) view against nicotine use as a vice. They are making a moral issue out of a health issue.

If the true interest were in promoting health, then the hospitals would certainly not refuse to hire people who are using nicotine replacement therapy or electronic cigarettes, as they are trying to quit smoking. Wouldn't the hospitals reward these people, rather than punish them?

If the true interest were in "asking our employees to model — and benefit from — the same healthy behaviors we promote to our patients and the community," then the hospital would also refuse to hire obese individuals, those with poor nutrition, those who don't exercise, those who don't wear seat belts, and those who practice unsafe sex, use tanning salons, or don't wear sunscreen.

These policies are not only employment discrimination but they are political statements and have nothing to do with health promotion. Thus, not only are they wrong because employment discrimination is inappropriate, they are not even justified by the very reasoning used to defend them.

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