Massachusetts Hospital Association (MHA), a not-for-profit organization, that announced this month (November 2010) that it will no longer hire individuals who use tobacco products.
"MHA and its members hospitals have long been committed to initiatives that promote the health and welfare of our patients and communities. The negative impact of tobacco use on health is well documented. In Massachusetts alone, smoking is the leading cause of preventable death and disease," they said in a statement on their website.
The move could set a precedent for hospitals -- an other organizations -- nationwide. And Lynn Nicholas, the CEO of the Association, which consists of more than 100 of hospitals in the state, wanted it that way. She decided to take the ban public as a way to raise awareness about the tobacco use, the number one cause of preventable death in the United States.
The hiring ban makes sense for a hospital, whose employees are meant to care for sick and serve, at least in some capacity, as role models for healthy living. In addition, not hiring tobacco users is a savvy way to reduce healthcare costs.
Smokers are not a protected class of workers, so the ban doesn't violate federal law. Police and fire departments in the state stopped hiring smokers in 1997 as part of a change in their pension system. But while MA state law permits the ban, 29 states do have laws discriminating against hiring smokers.
The ban will go into effect on January 1, 2011, and will not effect current employees. It builds on their existing policy of having a completely tobacco-free workplace, and is part of a broader movement to curb tobacco use throughout Massachusetts hospitals.
Going beyond a simple "no smoking" policy in the workplace, the hiring ban is not meant to dictate what employees do with their free time, but rather, what type of workplace they foster. According to MHA's website, "it is important for MHA to walk the walk and talk the talk in terms of a healthy work environment, given that our members are healthcare providers and leaders."
Other hospitals around the country have also decided against hiring tobacco users. Memorial Hospital in Tennessee recently decided not to hire smokers to set an example in the community. In Ohio, the Cleveland Clinic and Summa Health Systems have a tobacco-free hiring policies. In 2005, the World Health Organization decided to stop hiring smokers.
Reference: Massachusetts Hospital Association: Tobacco Users Need Not Apply by Brie Cadman, health.change.org, 11/09/2010.
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