A reader writes:
I recently applied to two different hospitals for employment and found that both of them enforced strict anti-smoking policies that included nicotine tests upon hire. One website stated that if you failed the nicotine test, they would provide you with a program to help you quit and then you could reapply. The other stated that it would allow you to reapply again in 6 months.
Although I am not a smoker, I thought that this policy might be borderline invasive of someone’s privacy and choice to smoke. Do you think that this fair? I know that this is a hospital and that you have to take the patient’s health into account, but isn’t this overkill? I am on the fence with this.
Well, from a legal standpoint, there’s no federal law that protects smokers from employment discrimination. However, 29 states and D.C. do have laws that bar discriminating against smokers in hiring, although some have exceptions for nonprofits and the health care industry. And the health care industry seems to be where the trend is strongest — lots of hospitals are implementing the kind of ban you’re talking about. The reasoning among employers who do this is, of course, the impact of smoking on their health care costs, and for some is tied to an institutional mission to promote wellness.
That last part makes sense to me — after all, if you’re a hospital, it might seem as contradictory to hire smokers as it would for PETA be to hire meat-eaters. You want to hire people who are committed to your mission. On the other hand, is the hospital also going to say that they’re not going to hire motorcycle riders or the morbidly obese or people who eat a lot of bacon? I really doubt that the rest of their workers are all paragons of healthy living. Smokers are an easier category to pick on, of course, and as a society we’re much more in agreement that you shouldn’t smoke than that you shouldn’t eat bacon, but there’s a lot of room to poke holes in this whole practice.
In any case, overall, I don’t believe that employers should police your private life — whether it’s what you eat, what you drink, whether you engage in risky sexual behavior, or whether you choose to smoke a joint or a cigarette … both because it’s none of their business and because I don’t think it’s a sound business practice that will help them hire and retain the best people. After all, if I were running a hospital, I can’t see how I’d justify turning away an amazing doctor or an all-star CFO because of what she chose to do with her body in her time away from work.
What do others think?