Tennessee Hospital Tells Smokers: You Can't Work Here

One Tennessee hospital is sending a very clear message to its future employees: if you smoke, you are not wanted here.

Beginning Feb. 1, Memorial Hospital in Chattanooga, Tenn., will no longer hire new employees who use any type of tobacco products.

According to a statement on the hospital's Web site, anyone offered a job with the hospital will be required to test for nicotine use, in addition to the previously administered drug test.


The statement, which is located under the career section of the hospital's Web site, reads in part:

"Effective February 1, 2010, Memorial Health Care System will no longer hire individuals who use tobacco or nicotine products in any form. Memorial Health Care System and its affiliates recognize the major importance of associates' health and well being, and the responsibility of maintaining a healthy and safe environment for all associates, volunteers, patients and visitors. " (Click here for the full statement:)

ABCNews.com made multiple interview requests with the hospital, but they were not fulfilled.

The off-hours ban the hospital is imposing on employees is not unique -- and a dismissal -- if the rule is ignored by an employee -- would not be, either.

Some companies have even stricter smoking rules.

In 2005, Weyco Inc. a Michigan-based administrator of corporate benefit plans, banned all employees, current and future, from smoking anywhere, anytime -- even at home. Four employees who failed random nicotine tests were fired, including Anita Epolito who told "60 Minutes," "I am not the poster child for nicotine here. This is about privacy. This is about what you do on your own time, that is legal, that does not conflict with your job performance."

Wayne Jeffrey was a police officer for seven years in Fall River, Mass., before he was dismissed in 2003 for smoking while off-duty.

A 1988 Massachusetts law forbade smoking by public safety officers, part of a deal to ensure people filing for disability could only cite work-related health issues. While police officers did sign a statement saying they would not smoke -- even when not on duty -- Jeffrey said many others on the force also signed it and continued to smoke.

Also, he said, officers hired before that time were grandfathered into the system, so he could smoke with another officer who could later turn him in -- which Jeffrey says is ultimately what happened to him.

For those reasons, Jeffrey said, the law seemed to be more about being able to fire people when necessary rather than for health concerns.

"It's a great tool when it becomes time to remove somebody," he said. "Had I been doing drugs, I would have been sent to a [counselor for treatment]," he added, noting that the law does not allow for a second chance when smoking is involved as it does in many states for drug addiction.

While he lost in arbitration and did not decide to pursue a court case, Jeffrey landed on his feet. He was offered a job through the sheet metal workers' union, where he belonged before becoming a police officer.

But Jeffrey still believes smoking laws for off-duty workers are unfair.

"Don't you think you should get the option to quit?" he said "Wouldn't that be more fair than hiring someone who doesn't smoke but might have a shady past. You can have an outstanding citizen who has a vice of smoking. It doesn't make sense."

But in his case, that doesn't mean he wants the habit himself, although he still smokes.

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