Are You Willing to Smoke Out Your Job?

Every so often I come across articles on the web that spark some kind of interest but I don’t have time to read them, so I bookmark them for later.  I had this particular article bookmarked for a while (okay, since February), and when I finally got the chance to read it, it struck me that healthcare companies are moving in the right direction and I hope more organizations follow their lead.  What am I talking about?  Shifting the ban from smoking in the workplace to banning smokers, period.

I know sounds harsh, doesn’t it.

The article in question is from the New York Times.  Author A. G. Sulzberger reports that…

“More hospitals and medical businesses in many states are adopting strict policies that make smoking a reason to turn away job applicants, saying they want to increase worker productivity, reduce health care costs and encourage healthier living.  The policies reflect a frustration that softer efforts — like banning smoking on company grounds, offering cessation programs and increasing health care premiums for smokers — have not been powerful-enough incentives to quit…the new rules essentially treat cigarettes like an illegal narcotic.”

If you want to get a job in one of these organizations, you have to submit to a drug test.  And if you get caught smoking, just as with a Drug Free Workplace, you can face termination.

There are a lot of states that have laws that prevent bans on smokers (not Florida).  Here, with the Florida Clean Air Act passed in 2003, smoking is prohibited at most places of employment, but smokers can smoke in designated areas determined by the employer.  Smokers can also smoke in bars, private establishments or other public places where smoking is not banned, such as a tobacco shop.

I’m sure one of the main reasons employers are banning smoking is economic, evidenced by the skyrocketing medical costs associated with smoking and the sick leave or unproductive time that comes along with it.  But as the article states, there are other good reasons to do so, such as encouraging a healthier way of life.  Healthcare providers also want to ensure that their employment policies and practices are congruent with their mission to promote overall health and well-being.  It’s in their best interests to do so, from an economic, consumer and employee perspective.

Steven Bjelich, chief executive of St. Francis Medical Center in Missouri said that his organization “felt it was unfair for employees who maintained a healthy lifestyle to have to subsidize those who do not.”

I can’t help but agree with that sentiment.

Let me say that I’m not a smoker – but was one in my early 20s, when I was really stupid – so I guess I’m one of those rabid anti-smoking people that smokers love to hate.  Especially after having two children who had asthma, losing a mom to smoking-related lung cancer, and now dealing with an aging dad with smoking-related COPD.  Smokers aren’t going to get any sympathy from me.

But where do we draw the line?

One thing we must consider, is what health or other related behaviors are we going to ban next in our workplaces and is it right that we do so.  Are we going to ban employees from engaging in high-risk sports, such as hang gliding, motorcross, or even snow skiing?  Are we going to ban employees from drinking alcohol in the privacy of  their own homes?  Are we going to ban employees who have a BMI over 25?

As HR pros, we need to understand the hows and whys of developing health or behavior-related policies and ensure that those policies not only meet the needs of our organizations, but truly take into account the rights of the individual outside of the workplace.

Is it discrimination?  You decide.


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