NEW INFORMATION: Area hospitals not planning to enact nicotine-free hiring policies

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EAU CLAIRE (WEAU) - It's a story that’s drawing a lot of attention on our Facebook page and website. A hospital in Des Moines, IA is about to set a new hiring precedent by starting a tobacco-free hiring policy.

Mercy Medical Center will no longer hire smokers, and will test applicants for nicotine as part of its pre-employment drug testing. The hospital says it wants its employees to emulate the same healthy behaviors it encourages from its patients.

The American Cancer Society says it doesn't have a stance on the policy, but it says it would have a positive effect on the hospital's patients.

“Carcinogens are carried on your hands, so, after you’re smoking, even though in health care facilities, it’s important to wash your hands,” said Michelle Shufelt with ACS. “It also gets on your clothing so those things are spread.”

We asked attorney John Behling about the legalities of this policy. He said if a business in Wisconsin wanted to implement a similar policy, he thinks it would be a violation of Wisconsin's Fair Employment Act. He added that Wisconsin has more employee-friendly laws then some neighboring states.

Mayo Clinic Health System-Eau Claire and Sacred Heart Hospital both say they don't have a tobacco-free hiring policy, or plans in place to start one.


DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- A Des Moines hospital is expanding its smoke-free workplace to its new employees with a tobacco-free hiring policy.

Mercy Medical Center will no longer hire smokers and will test applicants for nicotine as part of its pre-employment drug testing.

Human Resources Director Kevin Elsberry says the hospital wants its employees to emulate the same healthy behaviors it encourages from its patients. The policy, which goes into effect July 1, doesn't affect current employees.

Elsberry says the policy isn't discriminatory. He says smokers aren't a "protected class" in Iowa so the hospital has the option of not hiring people who smoke or use other tobacco products.

Mercy banned smoking from its campus about five years ago.


Mercy to enact nicotine-free hiring policy effective July 1, 2011

May 31, 2011

As a health care organization with a mission-driven commitment to create healthier communities, Mercy Medical Center – Des Moines will implement a nicotine-free hiring policy for all job applicants at its hospitals, clinics, outpatient centers and all other facilities effective July 1, 2011.

“Mercy’s primary goal is to improve the health and well-being of the patients and families it serves. By living our mission of creating healthier communities, we support healthier lifestyles,” said Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer Robyn Wilkinson.

Under the new policy, all physicians, nurses and other individuals who apply for a position with Mercy on or after July 1 will be tested for nicotine during the regular pre-employment screening process. Those who test positive for nicotine will be eliminated from hiring consideration with the option to reapply after six months.

The policy does not apply to current Mercy employees who smoke or use tobacco products unless they leave the organization and reapply for future employment with Mercy on or after July 1. However, those employees are strongly encouraged to use the smoking cessation options afforded them under Mercy's health and wellness benefits.

“We recognize smoking or using tobacco products is not illegal,” said Wilkinson. “However, our employees have an obligation to set a good example for the communities we serve. By implementing a nicotine-free hiring policy, Mercy will be expecting its employees to model the same healthy behaviors it encourages of its patients and their family members.”

While Mercy is the first member of the Iowa Hospital Association to make nicotine-free a condition for employment, the organization has promoted and supported a tobacco-free health care environment since 2006, when it partnered with other local hospitals in an effort to prohibit smoking and the use of tobacco products on its campuses.

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