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Smokers not welcome at Detroit hospital - any employment law violation?

The Detroit Medical Center recently announced that it would no longer hire job applicants who smoked and will test employees from now on to make sure that they are not smoking. That does not mean that employees are only not allowed to smoke on the job; it means they are not allowed to smoke at all, period.

This makes the hospital one of a growing number of healthcare organizations in Michigan that are no longer hiring smokers, including Crittendon Hospital Medical Center in Rochester, Dearborn's Oakwood Health System and Sparrow Health System in Lansing.

Organizations that do not allow employees to smoke say they are enacting smoking bans because they want healthier employees and want to pay less for health insurance coverage. Some employees, however, say this is a violation of employees' rights. In fact, some states have enacted laws meant to prevent on-the-job discrimination against smokers, though Michigan is not one of them.

In fact, the acting chair of the State Bar of Michigan Association's labor and employment law chapter recently told a reporter that "there's no protection for employment rights of smokers in Michigan."

Does that seem right to you? On the one hand, the health problems associated with smoking are well-documented and it seems fair that if you are knowingly damaging your health, you should pay for that and not expect others to subsidize your bad habit. But on the other, do we really want to go as far as to put smokers' jobs in jeopardy or make them un-hirable? Smoking is a bad habit, but it is not a crime.

Source: Detroit Free Press, "Detroit Medical Center will not hire smokers, plans to test applicants for smoking," Patricia Anstett and Robin Erb, June13, 2012

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