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Employee rights issue brewing as hospital refuses to hire smokers

When someone decides to smoke cigarettes, they are free to make that choice. When someone hires a job applicant, they cannot make the decisions based on biased or discriminatory factors.

Combine those two ideas, and it would seem that no company could ban the hiring of smokers, right? Apparently one hospital doesn't think so, and their resulting policy has sparked some outrage regarding employee rights and how they are (or, maybe more aptly, how they are not) applied to smokers.

In Michigan, the Detroit Medical Center will not allow smokers to be put on the payroll, requiring any individual who applies for a job at the hospital to undergo tobacco testing to prove they don't light up a cigarette from time to time. Current employees who smoke are unaffected.

Such a decision falls in line with a vast amount of rules and regulations passed all across the U.S. in the past decade that target people who smoke. But does it make it right to discriminate against smokers simply because it is part of this sweeping reform? Hiring policies like these are banned in many states -- though Michigan does not afford job applicants this protection.

There are some lingering questions about how the tobacco test given to applicants and how it applies in certain circumstances. What if they live with a smoker and are regularly inhaling second-hand smoke? What if the applicant is trying to quit smoking and, as part of his or her plan, is using tobacco gum or tobacco patches to kick the habit?

Discriminating against someone -- regardless of the determining factor -- in a business environment or in a hiring scenario is unfair, placing certain applicants at an inherent disadvantage. It infringes on their rights to a fair and unbiased review process, and it can obstruct them from becoming gainfully employed.

Source: Detroit Free Press, "Detroit Medical Center will not hire smokers, plans to test applicants for smoking," Patricia Anstett and Robin Erb, June 13, 2012

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