Where there’s smoke, there’s no job?

Published 8:47pm Friday, July 12, 2013

The new year will bring a new hiring policy for Atmore Community Hospital after their parent company, Baptist Health Care, announced last week that new employees must be tobacco free in order to secure a job as of January 1, 2014.

This week, officials with BHC released more specifics about their new policy, including information on testing procedures, and locals weighed in on whether the new policy is a good move, or a breach of privacy.

“We will do urine tests to check for tobacco,” Vice President of Human Resources Darlene Stone said. “It will be very similar to the way we drug test.”

Stone said other health care systems who have adopted tobacco-free hiring are employing urine tests, while some less-stringent methods of enforcement include the honor system.  Stone said the new policy will only apply to employees hired after December, 2013 and will not affect current employees who use tobacco. Employees of Gulf Coast Enterprises, who work inside ACH’s facilities, will also be exempt from the new policy, but Stone said that too may change in time.

“GCE is made up of about 75 percent by disabled people,” Stone said. “They have kind of a unique situation. We’re not going to apply it to them initially, but in the future that could change.”

Although critics of tobacco-free hiring, a trend that has caught on in recent years around the nation – especially within health care systems, say the practice discriminates against people engaging in legal activity, Stone says it is simply leading by setting a good example.

“Tobacco use is one of the bigger health issues for our community,” she said. “Nothing good comes from tobacco use. It’s our mission to improve health, so we are committed and we can start by addressing this issue.”

As for those who say the new policy is a slippery slope towards not hiring people who engage in other activities like unhealthy diets or alcohol consumption, Stone said tobacco is a separate issue.

“When you talk about things like obesity, it’s a protected category when it comes to discrimination,” she said. “But we do encourage a healthy lifestyle in a variety of ways, like exercising and eating right. We’re not just picking on tobacco users. It’s about being healthy.”

While no current employees at Atmore Community Hospital have chimed in on the issue, Atmore-area residents have been adding their opinions to the mix via social media and online polls. In a poll conducted on the Advance web site, 58 percent of voters said the new hiring practice is discriminatory, while 42 percent said they believe it to be a good idea.

In response to the issue, Atmore-area residents also took to The Advance’s Facebook page to express their opinions on the matter.

Kelly Wood Dowdy said she feels the practice is a breach of basic rights.

“Discriminatory,” Dowdy wrote. “I don’t even smoke and think that is ridiculous! What a person does legally on his own time is none of the company’s business! Let’s start not hiring people who actually want to work just because they smoke. Then they can get on unemployment and the rest of us can start paying for them as well! Come on, how many more rights are going to be taken away? It should be the person’s decision, not the employer’s!”

“Not right,” Stephanie Farish Shiver wrote. “Some of the best doctors and nurses I’ve ever known smoke. I much rather have the best than someone who may not be as qualified and they only hire them because they don’t smoke working on me!”

“How about taking out every vending machine and help out all of the obese employees, its totally discrimination,” Marsha Bolton wrote.

While those in favor of the new hiring process have been less vocal than the dissenters, Stone said she still believes the end result will be a good one.

Stone added cessation classes are and will continue to be available at no cost for current employees interested in kicking the habit.


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