New MU Health Care policy bans hiring nicotine users

Nicotine users of any kind — including users of alternative nicotine products — will no longer be hired by MU Health Care after Jan. 1, 2015.

In less than a month, MU Health Care will no longer hire nicotine users of any kind.

Effective Jan. 1, the new policy, announced Nov. 20, applies only to new MU Health Care employees, meaning it wouldn’t affect current employees or MU medical students. It includes all types of tobacco products, extending to electronic cigarettes and chewing tobacco.

“Improving the health of our patients, as well as the community and the state, is central to our mission as a leading academic medical center,” said Mitch Wasden, MU Health Care Chief Executive Officer and Chief Operating Officer, in a news release.

MU Health Care spokesperson Derek Thompson said tobacco use is one of the single largest preventable causes of diseases and premature death in the United States.

“Tobacco contributes to or causes nearly 10,000 Missourian (deaths) each year, so we just really want to lead by example,” Thompson said.

MU Health Care believes this policy is a national progression, as the United States is increasingly focused on health and wellness, Thompson said.

David Fleming, chair of internal medicine and director of the MU Center for Health Ethics, said the new policy will reduce potential hypocrisy of medical professionals using tobacco themselves.

“It will create a presence of a health care system, in our community and in the mid-Missouri area, which practices what it preaches,” Fleming said.

New applicants will be asked if they use nicotine products at the beginning of the application process. If they say yes, they’ll be given tobacco cessation information and told to reapply after 90 days. If they say no and are considered for hiring, they’ll be tested for nicotine as part of their pre-employment drug screening.

If a new applicant after Jan. 1 is suspected of using nicotine products, MU Health Care system will follow a standard disciplinary process, which Thompson said could involve verbal warnings and termination, if necessary.

MU Health Care is legally allowed to follow through with the policy, according to an exemption in Missouri Law.

Section 290.145 of the Missouri Revised Statutes states, “It shall be an improper employment practice for an employer to refuse to hire, or to discharge, any individual, or to otherwise disadvantage any individual . . . because the individual uses lawful alcohol or tobacco products off the premises of the employer during hours such individual is not working for the employer.”

However, the document goes on to exempt “religious organizations and church-operated institutions, and not-for-profit organizations whose principal business is health care promotion.”

Rafael Gely, associate dean for academic affairs at the MU School of Law, said besides this section, Missouri has no further protections for smokers under discriminatory laws.

“This kind of prohibition is what can protect (job-seeking smokers), but again, here you have that exception that applies,” Gely said.

Fleming said tobacco users are not generally included in groups protected against discrimination laws.

“The main reason there’s a difference I think is that (smokers are not) … clearly identified classes of individuals that have been historically underserved or discriminated against in our society, which is what the laws were created to protect,” Fleming said.

Freshman Matt Fondersmith, who smokes cigarettes, said he disagrees with the policy, but doesn’t think it’s discriminatory.

“They’re trying to do the right thing,” Fondersmith said. “They’re trying to make people quit smoking tobacco, which is obviously bad for you, but I don’t think it should be a make or break situation … I don’t think that a person should be declined a job just based on the fact that they smoke cigarettes or chew tobacco.”

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