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Smoking ban: What’s next?

September 5, 2014

A Pennsylvania health care provider next year will not be allowing smoking on the job – or off the job.

After Dec. 31, WellSpan Health won’t hire people who smoke or use tobacco products. The York-based provider made the decision as part of a policy to use its leadership role in the community to curb the use of tobacco products.

“We felt strongly that this is an important part of our mission to promote healthy lifestyles and good health in our communities,” Robert Batory said during an interview on WITF’s “Smart Talk” radio program. Batory is WellSpan Health’s senior vice president and chief human resources officer.

The fairness of this new policy has been brought into question, particularly as it doesn’t apply to current employees. But despite some controversy around the move, WellSpan Health is not the only central Pennsylvania provider with a smoke-free workforce. Likewise, Pennsylvania is not unique – several employers throughout the country are refusing to hire smokers.

This is a change from less than 10 years ago, when the big news was employers and local and state legislators banning smoking at worksites, but not offsite.

Policy decisions such as banning the hiring of smokers also can raise other questions. Smart Talk host Scott LaMar asked Batory what may be on many people’s minds: What’s next? Will employers next be telling prospective employees they have to weigh a certain amount or have a certain body mass index?

WellSpan Health doesn’t have such plans on the books, but Batory said it does have wellness incentives to encourage workers to lead healthier lifestyles. (They also have a smoking cessation program.)

Although some employers are using wellness programs, other employers are taking a more aggressive approach when it comes to the health of their workforce.

Refusing to hire tobacco users or applicants with other unhealthy habits can help ensure a healthier workforce, which can in turn save employers thousands of dollars every year.

But to some people, banning the hiring of employers based on their personal habits – however unhealthy – is troubling. It’s a thorny issue stretching into many areas – privacy, workers’ health and off-the-job safety, just to name a few.

Is a line being crossed? Are such steps necessary to improve worker and community health? Would you support an employer refusing to hire certain people based on their health or their habits? Let me know in the comments.

The opinions expressed in "On Safety" do not necessarily reflect those of the National Safety Council or affiliated local Chapters.

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