UAB Medicine to Potential Employees: Not If You Smoke

(Photo Credit: Danieljordahl/Flickr)

90.3 WBHM UAB Medicine is instituting a new tobacco-free hiring policy. Starting July 1, 2013, all new hires will have to be tobacco abstainers -- no smoking, sucking/dipping, chewing or snuffing any tobacco product. Prospective employees will be tested for nicotine use as part of their pre-employment drug screening following a job offer. Those who test positive for nicotine use will not be hired. The policy includes jobs with the UAB Health System, UAB Hospital, University of Alabama Health Services Foundation, The Kirklin Clinic, The Kirklin Clinic at Acton Road, UAB Callahan Eye Hospital, University of Alabama Ophthalmology Services Foundation, Triton Health Systems L.L.C./VIVA Health Inc. and UAB Health Centers. The policy does not apply to the University of Alabama at Birmingham as a whole.

“We care deeply for all members, and prospective members, of the UAB Medicine family, and as health-care providers we wanted to take a major step toward providing a healthier environment for employees, patients and hospital visitors,” says UAB Health System CEO Will Ferniany, Ph.D. “Our intent is not to eliminate people from applying for positions with UAB Medicine, but rather to send the message that as the largest health-care provider in the state, we are committed to the health of our employees and all Alabamians.”

Each year in Alabama, 7,500 people die from tobacco-related illnesses and more than 800 non-smokers die from illnesses related to secondhand smoke, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health. More than 20 percent of Alabamians smoke and nearly 10 percent use smokeless tobacco.

The policy does not apply to current UAB Medicine employees or individuals hired prior to July 1, 2013. For current employees, UAB Medicine is ramping up efforts to provide smoking and tobacco-cessation programs.

Legal experts and others warn caution

UAB Medicine is not the first health-care organization to adopt this type of policy. Hospitals and health systems in Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee and Texas also have stopped hiring people who use tobacco, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. This includes several nationally ranked health-care providers, such as the Baylor Health Care System, whose policy went into effect earlier this year, and Cleveland Clinic, which has had a tobacco-free hiring policy since 2007.

Laws vary state to state, but employment law experts caution that employers need to be careful when instituting policies like this as they could be considered "lifestyle discrimination." For a list of states that provide employment protections for smokers (Alabama is not on the list) and an overview of the pros and cons of smoking bans, click here.

- Tanya Ott, November 14, 2012