Experts Debate Ethics of Refusing to Hire Smokers
As a growing number of employers institute policies that ban hiring smokers, medical ethicists debated the policy in the New England Journal of Medicine. One group argues not hiring smokers sends a strong message to employees and the community that smoking is harmful, while the other group calls the practice unethical.
Both groups of experts, based at the University of Pennsylvania, focused on the policy instituted by the Cleveland Clinic, a world-famous medical institution. The group arguing in favor of the ban notes it gives job applicants a strong incentive to quit smoking and reduces medical expenses for employers. They add patients also appreciate not having to smell smoke on the clothing of healthcare workers caring for them, the Los Angeles Times notes.
The group arguing against the ban notes it is hypocritical for a healthcare institution to ban smokers, because its employees pledge to care for patients who suffer from illnesses that may be caused in part through their own lifestyle choices, such as smoking. They note the extreme degree of difficulty in quitting smoking for many people. In addition, smokers are more likely to be poor, less educated and unemployed. By not hiring smokers, employers are preventing them from both job opportunities and health insurance.
The Cleveland Clinic was one of the first hospitals to institute a tobacco screening policy for employees. Applicants who test positive for tobacco use are not considered for employment. They are referred to tobacco cessation resources, which the clinic pays for.