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New Hiring Rules

March 4, 2014
by Tim Tolan
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Can a personal habit be a dealbreaker for highly qualified candidates? If you are a smoker in Florida, maybe so
Tim Tolan

The world of hiring in the healthcare IT is definitely changing. Recently a new policy was implemented at a hospital in northeastern Florida to screen for smokers during the hiring process. As of Jan. 1 of this year, this hospital no longer hires tobacco users. You heard it. The local newspaper here reported that all new hires will be tested for a nicotine byproduct during the hiring process—and sign off to remain tobacco-free throughout their employment. The policy has some wiggle room in that it does not apply to volunteers, medical staff or some of their employees already working at the hospital. This seems to be a policy that works well for existing workers but not for new recruits. Talk about a strange twist. This policy could help the hospital with improved tenure with their current employees who smoke.

The hospital became smoke-free in 2009. It started charging $25 per paycheck for smokers who elected to take health insurance as an added reason to quit. All new employees hired after Jan. 1 who test positive for the nicotine byproduct are subject to disciplinary action—including possible termination. That’s a game-changer. The hospital offers free tobacco-cessation counseling to employees and their families to help them kick the habit!

Flashback: It still bothers me to no end to visit a physician or hospital and see the medical staff gathered in groups smoking outside the office knowing they have to present a much healthier message once they are back inside visiting with their patients! I have unpleasant memories of our family’s primary care physician openly smoking in his office during a medical exam in during my younger days. When I think back to how wrong that was it makes me shake my head! For me, it was up for debate on which odor was worse—the cigarette smell that reeked throughout his office or the strong smell of rubbing alcohol that hit you like a ton of bricks the minute you walked into his waiting room. Let’s face it: the data on the risks of smoking have been around for years, but now all of the sudden the risk of being a smoker and getting hired in a healthcare system could change forever—at least here in Florida!

As a hiring manager you have lots of things to think about when considering a new hire. In addition to the IT skills the candidate has you also have to think about how they will fit in with your team. Then there is the on-boarding process to make sure they feel connected with your organization as they get up to speed. Let’s not forget to check out your potential new hires on social media before you pull the trigger on an offer. Often you will be surprised or shocked at what they do when they are not working! Now (at least at this medical center in Florida) you have to know if they use tobacco products during the screening and interview process. A candidate’s health history is protected information for the most part—unless you are financially impacted by their bad habits. In many ways I get that. So what’s next?  Do we add a “Do You Use Tobacco Products?” field to the application, or better yet, does that become part of the search firm’s responsibility to vet in advance of presenting them?

The answer is, it does. Our firm was hired a couple of years ago by a healthcare organization in Texas that refused to hired smokers. We had to determine if a candidate used tobacco products during our screening process. We had to eliminate dozens of highly qualified candidates because of personal choices they made that would impact the employer’s healthcare costs.

The world of hiring in healthcare is definitely changing. With 10,000 Americans retiring each day the candidate pool for great HCIT talent will no doubt become much smaller and the fight for talent will surely heat up. Choosing not to hire employees that use tobacco will definitely drain the talent pool a bit more.

Tim Tolan is senior partner of Sanford Rose Associates-The Tolan Group. He can be reached at or (904) 875-4787. His blog can be found at