Geisinger Health will test people for tobacco before hiring

    One of Pennsylvania’s largest health systems will screen new hires to see if they smoke.

    Smokers may feel like an increasingly segregated minority these days, but Geisinger Health System says smokers are not a protected class under U.S. anti-discrimination laws.

    That may mean: Smokers need not apply.

    Beginning in February, everyone offered a job at Geisinger will be tested for tobacco use. Those who fail the nicotine test won’t be hired.

    Geisinger’s headquarters are in Danville, Pa., in Montour County in central Pennsylvania.

    “Basically anything that will produce a positive result that has nicotine would include cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, snuff, cigars, nicotine patches and gum,” said health system spokeswoman Marcy Marshall.

    The policy is a logical next step, Marshall says, for Geisinger’s 40 smoke-free campuses.

    “We do anticipate in the long run it should reduce the cost of health insurance because non-smokers generally are healthier, but actually on the short term we are incurring the cost for the testing, but this is just an investment in our employees’ good health,” Marshall said.

    Labor law attorney and Widener University Law School professor Pamela Perry says Pennsylvania is one of 20 states that allow companys to consider smoking when hiring. Still she says the rule may be vulnerable in court.

    “You could make an argument that, under the amended Americans with Disabilities Act,  which provides a broader scope of who is disabled, that someone who is addicted to nicotine might be deemed someone who’s entitled to an accommodation,” Perry said.

    Bill Godshall of SmokeFree Pennsylvania says Geisinger should focus on smokers not other nicotine users.

    “It’s the daily inhalation of tobacco smoke over many decades that causes the health problems,” Godshall said. “Basically it’s like telling all of their employees you aren’t allowed to drink because a few people can’t handle their alcohol.”

    People who fail Geisinger’s nicotine test can reapply after six months.

    Geisinger is now one of three health systems in Pennsylvania that require a nicotine screening test for new hires.

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