NORFOLK, Va. (CBS Washington) – A network of Virginia hospitals will soon refuse to hire people who smoke or use tobacco products.

The Bon Secours hospital system will test applicants for nicotine as part of a new pre-employment screening process, making it one of the region’s first health care organizations to implement a nicotine-free hiring policy.

Hospital officials said that current Bon Secours employees will not be affected by the incoming policy. The new policy expands on a previous statewide ban in 2009 that prohibited employees, patients, and visitors on hospital grounds from smoking or using tobacco products. Hospital officials estimate that about 300 employees quit smoking altogether as a result of the 2009 guidelines.

“We wanted to take it up to a new level,” Bon Secours’ Senior Vice President for Human Resources Bonnie Shelor told CBS Washington. “This is the next step in the journey to create a culture of wellness, well-being and health for our 12,000 co-workers and especially for the patients we serve and the community we serve.”

Urine testing will occur during the pre-employment training process, according to Bon Secours senior officials. If applicants who have been extended a job offer test positive for nicotine, their offer will be rescinded. The applicants who fail the nicotine test are eligible to reapply for a position six months later.

But the policy has faced some pushback from the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia. Although there’s no state law that restricts a company from implementing that kind of anti-nicotine policy, the group still has concerns that the new policy impedes and interferes with an employee’s personal life, Kent Willis, executive director of the ACLU of Virginia, told the Virginian Pilot.

“If it’s not prohibited by law,” Willis said, “can they also dictate what you eat and whether you exercise? When people think about it in that context, it concerns them a great deal.”

Hospital officials insist, however, that the new policy has been vetted by state health and ethics committees during the past nine months. The response from employees of Bon Secours, a network that includes hospital facilities in Norfolk, Richmond, Portsmouth, and Newport News, has been positive for the most part, some applicants telling Shelor that the policy is the kind of push that will help some quit or reduce their tobacco habits.

“While we recognize that it is not popular with everyone and some people disagree with it, we believe it is the right thing to do for our organization as it is aligned with our principles and philosophy around health,” Shelor said.


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