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U.S. hospitals banning, testing job applicants for nicotine use

The message is clear: Stop smoking or butt out. That's what administrators are telling their employees and job applicants at a large healthcare provider located in the U.S. The medical center is one of the latest employers to ban smoking entirely, pledging to even test new job seekers to determine whether they smoke cigarettes.

Experts say that this is a common trend amongst employers, but does it encourage discrimination and violate employees' rights? Can job applicants be turned down for a position because they smoke cigarettes, even if they only smoke when they are off the clock and off work property?

Some states have banned such policies, acknowledging that banning workers from smoking is a violation of one's rights. But the medical center, which is located in Michigan, is just one of many hospitals that have gone completely tobacco-free since 2007. The practice is becoming increasingly common, particularly in hospitals and other healthcare environments, in which workers are expected to set a healthy example to patients.

Although employers may be claiming that this new requirement is being enforced to preserve the health of patients, some argue that employers are just trying to save money on group health insurance payments, which have skyrocketed in the U.S.

These new smoking bans in the workplace have led many smokers to accuse firms of violating their fundamental rights. For example, many firms require urine tests to reveal whether job applicants have been smoking recently. Although issuing drugs tests may be common during the job application process, many are questioning whether it is necessary to test applicants for cigarette use, even if they don't smoke while at work.

During the past 10 years, more and more restaurants, bars and workplaces have banned smoking on their properties throughout the entire U.S. However, many facilities do allow workers and customers to smoke outside of buildings. In this recent case, though, even job applicants who smoke will most likely be denied a position because of their habit. Current workers who smoke are also being encouraged to quit.

Source: Detroit Free Press, "Detroit Medical Center will not hire smokers, plans to test applicants for smoking," Patricia Anstett and Robin Erb, June13, 2012