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Clinic to Begin Testing Applicants for Tobacco Use

Friday, June 29, 2007 at 3:43 PM

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Smokers who want a job at the Cleveland Clinic will soon have to quit or they'll be out of luck. The hospital announced today that it's going to start testing applicants for tobacco use. ideastream's Dan Bobkoff has the details.

Like many employers, the Cleveland Clinic bans smoking on its campus. Many Clinic employees who do smoke have found a spot by a nearby funeral home to light up on their breaks. But, the Clinic is doing everything it can to make that sight history. Starting September 1st, the medical center will stop hiring smokers. Job applicants will be tested for a compound found in nicotine, and if it comes up positive, the job-seekers will be offered help quitting… but no job.

The man charged with implementing the smoking ban is Dr. Michael Roizen, who was also just named the Clinic’s first “Chief Wellness Officer.” Given that healthcare is the Clinic’s business, Roizen says this policy makes sense.

Michael Roizen: We want people to walk the walk and talk the talk and that is our job is to show patients how well they can be.

Current employees won’t lose their jobs if they smoke, though they’ll continue to be encouraged to quit. Roizen says the anti-smoking policy is part of the Clinic’s larger effort to eliminate toxins from the workplace. They’ve already cut trans-fats from the cafeterias, and dangerous chemicals from their cleaning supplies. But Roizen rejects the cries of some that this is an employer telling employees how to live outside of work.

Michael Roizen: We’re telling them if they want to work here, we want them to live the wellness life. That we want them to be as healthy as they can and counsel patients that smoking is a hazard to his or her life.

The Cleveland Clinic is not the first Ohio employer to institute such a far-reaching smoking ban. A few months ago, the Scotts Miracle-Gro Company in Marysville started their own wellness program for employees. The lawn care supplier is hoping to help employees while also saving on the cost of healthcare. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that each smoker costs employers and health insurers $3,400 extra each year. The Scotts rule goes as far as firing employees who won’t stop smoking, and like at the Clinic, they won’t hire tobacco users. Su Lok is a spokesperson at Scotts, and she says it hasn’t caused a drop in job applications there.

Su Lok: We make it known this is our policy and in terms of recruitment, we haven’t seen any evidence of that.

The Cleveland Clinic’s policy is modeled on one in place at the World Health Organization, which has refused to hire smokers since 2005. The WHO says that’s legal under international law. And the Clinic contends they are well within their rights to implement such a rule too. But, Laurie Jodoin isn’t so sure. She’s an associate attorney at a Boston-based employment and civil rights law firm.

Laurie Jodoin: When you leave work for the day, it’s a reasonable expectation that you leave your boss at the office.

Jodoin is helping bring a wrongful termination lawsuit against the Scotts Miracle-Gro company. One of Scotts’ Massachusetts employees was fired in 2006 after nicotine was detected in a routine drug test. The suit alleges the company violated the employee’s civil rights and broke a federal law that prohibits interference with obtaining health insurance. She thinks applicants at the Clinic could make a similar argument.

Laurie Jodoin: It’s a very tricky slippery slope. You have to ask yourself where are you going to from here. Do you want your boss to monitor how much Ben and Jerry’s you’re going to eat at night. When you talk about health, how far are you going to go?

The case against Scotts is still making its way through the courts. Dr. Roizen of the Clinic contends that his policy is legal under most states’ law. So smokers who want to work at the clinic will need to get their job applications in before September 1st. Dan Bobkoff, 90.3.

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