Boy, is this a big can of worms.
Methodist Hospital System in Houston this month announcedit will implement a tobacco-free hiring policy on Jan. 1, joining the Texas Medical Center and Memorial Hermann Healthcare System, which have had similar policies since last year and 2010, respectively.
The policies are straightforward. Applicants who smoke or chew tobacco will not be hired. Existing employees are exempt.
A growing number of hospitals and health care institutions have adopted the policies to promote wellness, improve productivity and rein in rising health care costs, but critics say they discriminate and could lead to punitive actions against other personal habits and vices.
“We think this is an invasion of privacy and really overreaching,” said DottyGriffith, public education director for the American Civil Liberties Union in Texas. “At what point do you give up your rights and autonomy? Will they not employ those who ride motorcycles and drink alcohol?”
Dr. Marc Boom, president and CEO of Methodist Hospital System, said the policy is about company employees modeling healthy behaviors. More than 13,000 people work at the system’s five hospitals.
“This is part of a journey of wellness and making this a great place to work,” Boom said. “Employees work here to take of care patients. We can only do that if we’re leading by example.”
Methodist’s online application will warn job seekers that it is a tobacco-free employer and that urine tests will be used to detect nicotine. A job offer will be rescinded if an applicant’s results are positive. Free smoking cessation classes will be offered, giving applicants an opportunity to reapply if they have been smoke-free for 90 days.
On the one hand, it makes perfect sense for a hospital system to practice what it preaches. There’s a lot to be said for leading by example. And, though it isn’t specifically mentioned in the story, having an entirely non-smoking workforce would be great for Methodist’s bottom line, since it would reduce their own health care costs. Therein lies the rub, of course, because if having a non-smoking workforce is good for the company, then so is having a non-overweight workforce, and who knows what else. Employers have enough power over their employees already, thanks very much. Be that as it may, I have a strong feeling this will ultimately be settled in a courtroom, after someone files suit for discrimination. What do you think?