Smoking in the Workplace: What Healthcare HR Should Consider

Smoking in the Workplace: What Healthcare HR Should Consider
Marketing Specialist

The most common industry banning smoking in the workplace is healthcare. In fact, the Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights (ANR) states that over 3,800 hospitals, health systems and clinics have smoke-free campuses. MD Anderson Cancer Center, for example, adopted a tobacco-free hiring policy in 2015, which required everyone who applied for a job after January 1 to be screened for tobacco use. Those who tested positive were not eligible for immediate employment; they were given tobacco-cessation materials and instructions for seeking assistance. After a 180-day waiting period, they could then reapply and undergo a new screening test.

“An institution with the mission of ending cancer, we felt those who wish to work at MD Anderson must be willing to make a personal commitment to help reduce cancer rates,” says Vice President of Human Resources Shibu Varghese. “Because secondhand smoke also has been linked to cancer, it’s also a commitment on behalf of our employees to the entire community.”

Additionally, in a recent survey released by the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), 47 percent of HR professionals report their organizations do not permit smoking in the workplace. “With [healthcare] costs continuing to climb, HR professionals are likely to continue to take interest in the smoking habits of their workforce,” says SHRM researcher Karen Wessels. “Many organizations decide not to permit smoking workplace as part of their overall wellness strategy.”

Before creating or reviewing your healthcare organization's smoking policy, consider the following findings from SHRM’s recent survey:

Smoking Policies

Whether their organization permitted smoking or not, 85 percent of HR professionals indicated that their organization had a formal, written smoking policy that addressed the use of tobacco and electronic cigarettes in the workplace. These policies provided information about designated smoking areas (inside or outside company premises/vehicles), the number of smoke breaks employees were allowed daily, and described smoking surcharges such as higher healthcare premiums for smokers.

Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), employers may provide an incentive for employees to participate in wellness programs, says Stephen Miller, online editor/manager at SHRM. For nonsmokers, the value of the incentive can be as high as 30 percent of the health plan premium. The ACA also permits an incentive of up to 50 percent of the plan premium for participating in tobacco-cessation programs.

Another popular initiative is to provide wellness information on the benefits of a smoke-free lifestyle, Miller says. Providing both wellness information on the benefits of a smoke-free lifestyle and imposing smoking surcharges appear to influence the smoking rates among employees.

Vaping Use

Forty-four percent of HR professionals indicated that a policy that addressed personal vaporizers or electronic cigarettes was included in their organizations’ smoking policies; and 33 percent of those without a vaping policy said they had plans on employing one within the next 12 months.

Currently, there are no laws governing the use of e-cigarettes in the workplace, so employees are free to create their own policies to address their use. However, Sara Boyns, a lawyer at Fenton & Keller, advises any policy an employer adopts should be clear and tailored to your organization’s needs. Avoid imposing limitations that would discriminate based on a legally protected status. Employees should be given advance notice of the policy before it takes effect. Given the evolving state of the law on e-cigarettes, workplace policies should be revisited regularly for consistency with state and federal laws.

Disciplinary Actions

Fifty-three percent of HR professionals indicated that disciplinary actions were taken against employees who violated their organizations’ smoking policies. Disciplinary actions included: a verbal warning (66%); a written notice (13%); and suspension, fine, termination, or required an employee to complete a smoking cessation program for a first-time offense (1%).

Forbes contributor Jayson DeMers recommends, “Instead of firing employees, some workplaces are finding it far more valuable to implement smoking cessation programs.” These programs support workers in their attempts to quit smoking by offering seminars, counseling and discounts for cessation aids like medication and patches.

Whatever issues an organization faces involving its smokers, it’s important to be aware of their rights when it comes to hiring, firing and disciplining tobacco users. Do you have any concerns about enforcing a smoke-free workplace? Please leave us a comment in the section below. 

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