Warning: Tobacco can be hazardous to your job search. Geisinger Health System, which employs 15,000 people, says it no longer will hire people who use tobacco.
Job applicants will be tested for tobacco use just as they are for illegal drugs. Anyone who smokes cigarettes or cigars or uses smokeless tobacco won’t be hired.
The new policy will apply to people who receive job offers on or after Feb. 1. But it won’t affect existing Geisinger employees.
cigarettes.jpgView full sizeThe Associated Press/file
“This is about improving the health of our employee population and also creating a healthy environment for our patients as well as our employees,” said Amy Brayford, vice president of human resources at Geisinger, which is based in Danville, about 55 miles north of Harrisburg.
She said saving money isn’t the primary driver, although Geisinger, which spends about $100 million annually on health care for employees, expects to see savings eventually. Because of the expense of tobacco screening, costs will rise in the short term.
Geisinger is a major employer across north-central Pennsylvania, where it has assorted hospitals and health care facilities. In 2011, it received applications from nearly 23,000 people and hired 2,841, Brayford said.
Several years ago, Geisinger banned tobacco from its facilities and grounds and has fired employees for violating the ban, officials said.
But they said they don’t plan to randomly test employees hired after Feb. 1 to make sure they remain free of nicotine.
Now, all employees are asked about tobacco use annually when they renew their health insurance, and tobacco users pay more for coverage.
New employees who admit to tobacco use also pay higher premiums but face no penalties beyond that. As with other employees, they can get free help to quit nicotine.
Lynn Miller, executive vice president of clinical operations at Geisinger, said the decision not to discipline such employees came from a desire to be consistent with other policies.
For example, although Geisinger screens applicants for illegal drugs, it doesn’t test randomly for drugs, she said. “You have to have a trusting relationship with your employees. That is very important to us,” she said.
The Geisinger officials had no estimate on how many employees smoke.
They said they devised the policy after consulting with several health care organizations with similar policies, including Williamsport-based Susquehanna Health System and Lehigh Valley-based St. Luke’s Hospital & Health Network.
They pointed out that Pennsylvania is one of 20 states that allow employers to impose such a policy.
State Sen. Pat Vance, R-Cumberland County, said it is within Geisinger’s rights to impose such a policy.
She further said it’s a good way for a major health care entity to set an example that encourages employees to quit while creating a healthier atmosphere for patients.
Geisinger officials said they have no plans to apply such a policy to other health-related behaviors such as obesity or diabetes.
But beginning in 2013, they noted, employees who embrace healthy behaviors will qualify for “slightly lower” health care premiums.
Asked whether she expects other businesses to take a similar stance toward tobacco and perhaps other health-related behaviors, Vance said, “I guess anything is in the realm of possibility. We’ll have to see how much resistance there is to this. It will be interesting to watch.”
Geisinger officials said some employees have voiced objections about the new policy, but they noted that there are many more people who don’t smoke than do smoke in the health system.
They said other health systems that enacted the policy saw no significant impact on their ability to attract employees.
About six years ago, most Harrisburg-area hospitals, along with a few other businesses, banned tobacco from their grounds.
Holy Spirit Health System imposed the toughest policy, barring employees from smoking during their work shifts, even if they leave the hospital grounds.
Asked about imposing a policy similar to Geisinger’s, Christina Persson, director of marketing for Harrisburg-based PinnacleHealth System, said, “We have had some dialogue, but a decision has not been made.”
The Geisinger officials said job seekers who are rejected because of tobacco use can apply again after six months if they are tobacco-free.
They said the screening test can identify people who have been exposed to secondhand smoke but who don’t use tobacco.
Geisinger Health System won't hire people who smoke, won't force current employees to quit | PennLive.com