Smokers need not apply for jobs at some healthcare facilities

WEST YORK, YORK COUNTY, Pa. -- Many job-seekers might take a drug test to get hired, but some also may take a nicotine test.

The healthcare provider WellSpan is extending its restriction against hiring smokers.

Within the last year, WellSpan brought over Philhaven and Good Samaritan hospital into its fold.

Now, its going to apply the same policy to new hires there.

Smokers may wonder what are their rights.

Anyone looking online for a job at WellSpan or its facilities such as Philhaven or Good Samaritan, should know that smokers need not apply.

WellSpan senior vice-president of human resources Bob Batory said "it has a statement on it of what our requirements are including the nicotine screen, and so I think most people who see that and don't agree with it, choose not to apply."

Attorney Jesse Markley said "the most recent estimates say that 50-60 healthcare providers around the country have enacted policies banning smokers from getting employment at their facilities."

For healthcare providers, smoking could be the difference between life and death.

"The leading preventable cause of death in the United States," Batory said.

It's why the WellSpan organization is encouraging smokers to kick the habit in an effort to keep its employees healthy.

"It's a controversial topic, those who say good for you, it's part of your mission, take a leadership position, and then the other side of is it an infringement, civil rights," Batory said.

"I think it is discrimination. The one thing you have to remember is there is a distinction between state-sponsored discrimination in government and private employers selecting the kind of employees they want working for their facilities," Markley said.

Since smokers are not a federally protected class, they may have few rights.

"Race, sex, religion, it doesn't fall into one of those categories, so it leaves the door open for employers to decide if they want their employees to smoke or not," Markley said.

While the smoking restriction doesn't apply to current WellSpan, Philhaven or Good Samaritan employees, some who do smoke may find something in common with the new hires who don't smoke.

"We regularly have people who, most likely when they're ready to quit, to do whatever we can to support them," Batory said.

"I think the long term effects that the employer is trying to resolve with medical leave, or sickness, illness, time spent out of work, or increased insurance premiums," Markley said.

People who apply for jobs at WellSpan, Philhaven or Good Samaritan will have to pass a nicotine test just as they would a drug test before they can be hired.

There are 30 states that protect the rights of smokers, but Pennsylvania isn't one of them.

Markley said someone could call a lawyer to file a complaint, but it would take the state legislature to make a law to fight it.