WellSpan Health, the largest employer in York County, is stepping onto a slippery, smoky slope.

The health care system, which includes York Hospital and more than 100 other facilities in the region, announced this week it will not hire job applicants who test positive for nicotine or tobacco after Dec. 31.

In no way do we support smoking.

If a company wants to ban smoking on its premises, that's great. If a business decides to stop selling tobacco products, more power to them.

Their properties; their rules. And hopefully those rules will motivate people to give up the habit.

But WellSpan is reaching far beyond its boundaries, into the homes of prospective employees who should be free to make their own legal lifestyle choices.

Smokers are not a "protected class" — such as women, minorities and the disabled — so don't expect a federal discrimination lawsuit over WellSpan's heavy-handed, intrusive new policy.

In fact, non-smoking hiring is a trend in the health care industry — WellSpan joins a number of other Pennsylvania care providers that have adopted the intrusive policy, such as Geisinger, the University of Pennsylvania and Lancaster General Health.

It's so prevalent that more than half of all states felt the need to pass laws offering legal protection to individuals who smoke on their own property and time.

Unfortunately, Pennsylvania is not one of them.


Advertisement

There hasn't been much of an outcry since WellSpan's announcement, and perhaps that's not surprising. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 18 percent of American adults smoke, so the new policy won't affect too many people.

Yes, but ...

Keep in mind, more than 30 percent of Americans are obese. If it's OK for companies to punish smokers for their unhealthy choices, why stop there? Why can't they dictate what employees can eat or drink and how much they should exercise?

Don't think it couldn't happen.

Already Clarian Health, an Indianapolis-based health care system, deducts fines from its employees' paychecks if they smoke and if their body mass index is over 30 and if their cholesterol, blood pressure and glucose levels are too high.

Instead of punishing employees or job applicants, health care providers should be doing a better job encouraging healthy lifestyles.

We agree with the worker's rights advocate who said he was more concerned about the skills of a WellSpan doctor than whether he or she smoked at home. Or enjoyed a bit too much chocolate cake. Or didn't get enough exercise. Or had a glass of wine with dinner

As we said, it's a slippery slope.

For that reason, the Pennsylvania Legislature should pass a law protecting all workers — be they smokers, plus-size, couch potatoes — from overzealous, over-reaching employers.