Smokers: No need to apply for work at hospitals. That’s the message more hospitals and medical businesses in many states are sending to prospective employees.

The New York Times reported this week that hospitals in Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas stopped hiring smokers in the past year. Some are even making employees submit to urine tests to ensure they’re nicotine-free.

But that’s not a policy the two La Crosse hospitals are even thinking about, now or in the future. “We don’t look at smoking cigarettes as a hiring criteria, and we have no plans to make it a criteria,” said Janine Luz, Gundersen Lutheran’s human resources operations director.

“We look at qualifications for the job and don’t ask if someone smokes or not,” she said. “We don’t have to cross that line.”

Some hospitals say no-smokers policies increase worker productivity, reduce health care costs and encourage healthier living.

Others say the policies are discriminatory.

More than half the states have passed laws rejecting bans on hiring smokers.

“It’s not against the law in Wisconsin to ask applicants if they are smokers, but we don’t ask the question,” said Trisha Wieser, a Franciscan Skemp employee representative.

“Our concern is to make sure we find the right person for the job,” Wieser said. “What they do with their health outside of work is their own business.”

Franciscan Skemp and Gundersen Lutheran offer smoking cigarettes cessation programs for their employees. Both hospitals adopted a no-smoking cigarettes policy on their grounds in 2007.
“We’ll continue to promote nonsmoking cigarettes for our employees,” Luz said. But it won’t determine whether someone gets a job.

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