Bon Secours implements nicotine-free hiring policy

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - No nicotine or no job. A major health care system says it's setting a higher health standard, by adopting a nicotine-free hiring policy. It means nicotine users will have to stop smoking or chewing to be considered a viable job candidate at Bon Secours Virginia Health System.

About 10% of current Bon Secours employees smoke, and they will not be held to the same standard, but moving forward, officials say the policy is zero-tolerance- even the patch or nicotine gum could keep you from getting a job.

People already have to leave this hospital to smoke -- if they want to get hired to work inside, they'll have to quit.

"We do test for nicotine post-hire, post-job-offer and if the applicant is deemed to have nicotine, then we will rescind the offer," said Bonnie Shelor, Sr. VP at Bon Secours Virginia Health Systems.

Officials here say it's important hospital employees demonstrate healthy habits. We spoke to one employee off camera who disagreed with the policy- calling it unfair.

Louis McIntosh works here too and supports the plan, even though he smoked for decades. He says the hospital helped him quit and the benefits keep coming.

"I was able to save $1,344 a year when I first stopped smoking," said Louis McIntosh.

By not hiring smokers, the hospital should save money too.

"The American cancer society data tells us that each smoker cost is over $5,000 per year, so we fully anticipate some financial return," said Shelor.

Plus, Shelor says smokers are less productive and less efficient- so the savings could be even more significant. But, she says controlling the quality of health care workers coming in won't affect the quality of care, going out.

"We have over 150,000 applications for positions in bon Secours Virginia every year," said Shelor. "We have approximately a 5% vacancy rate. so, we do not anticipate that we will have a problem in finding qualified employees."

We did check with an employment lawyer who tells us this type of policy is not illegal. It's already in use at about 6,000 health care systems across the country. Right now, Bon Secours does not plan to randomly test current employees, but new hires must remain nicotine free.

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