Some employers say: Smokers need not apply
Monday, April 19th, 2010
With high unemployment rates, competition for jobs is tough. And for smokers, it's getting even more difficult as some employers adopt hiring policies that exclude smokers.
Beginning May first, Saint Luke's Hospital in Bethlehem will begin screening job applicants for nicotine — existing employees not be affected. The hospital is the latest to join several other hospitals nationwide in blocking smokers from the payroll.
Natalie Pedersen, a professor at Drexel Law School, says some states have sided with the smokers, but not all have.
Pedersen: Some states have elevated smokers to a protected class and enacted these statutes that protect lifestyle choices off of the job. Pennsylvania isn't one of them, so basically there's not a lot of recourse.
Pamela Perry, a professor a Widener School of Law, says employers will face no consequences for excluding smokers.
Perry: Now there may be market consequences. But, particularly in this economy, we can't rely on the market to change behaviors of employers.
Hospitals say they want to set an example for good health. And it probably doesn't hurt their health care costs either. Smokers tend to get sick more often, and take more days off from work.
Cleveland Clinic was one of the first to screen for smokers through a urine test. Paul Terpeluk is the Cleveland Clinic's medical director of employee health services.
Terpeluk: At first we thought this was going to be a real problem because we would lose great applicants who were smokers. To be honest with you, in the close to three years we've been running this program we've only had something in the neighborhood of 250 rescindments of job offers.
Terpeluk says that at 5,000 hires per year, it's not such a bad rate.
Pedersen: It has I think scary slippery slope ramifications for where I think employers could go with this.
Pedersen says her concern is whether employers will go beyond smoking to other types of behaviors — such as eating or exercising.