The city of Dayton no longer will hire employees who use nicotine or tobacco, citing the desire for a healthier workplace and environment.
Employees hired after July 15 are required to be nicotine and tobacco free as long as they work for the city.
The city plans to test for nicotine and tobacco during the pre-employment screening process and when it receives “reliable” information that an employee is using the products.
“Studies indicate that employees that smoke cost approximately an additional $6,000 per year in direct medical costs and lost productivity,” said Kenneth Couch, Dayton’s director of human resources.
Union leaders say they understand that nicotine and tobacco use are responsible for a sizable share of the city’s health care costs and that the policy is aimed at creating a healthier workforce.
But also they say they are worried the new policy will hurt recruiting and is a “slippery slope” to potentially intrusive workplace requirements restricting certain lifestyle choices that are lawful and do not affect work performance.
A survey of police and fire recruits when the policy was proposed indicated that both departments would have lost about one-quarter of their classes, said Rick Oakley, president of the Dayton Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 44, which represents about 365 police personnel.
“We are not thrilled about it, but we also understand where the city is coming from because the biggest part of their health care costs are from nicotine-related illnesses,” Oakley said.
Any city of Dayton employees hired after July 15 will be prohibited from using nicotine or tobacco products at work or during their time off, according to a copy of the human resources policy obtained by the Dayton Daily News.
Employees hired before then are not affected by the new policy, though the city is eliminating designated smoking areas.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 14 to 15 percent of adults nationwide use tobacco, and employees who smoke cost employers about an additional $170 billion in direct medical care and an additional $156 billion in lost productivity, said Couch.
The city of Dayton has about 2,657 adults on its insurance plan.
How it will work
City of Dayton job candidates will be screened for nicotine and tobacco during the hiring process.
If they test positive, the candidates will not be hired.
There is an exception, however. Applicants who are on a Dayton Civil Service Board eligibility list that was issued or effective before July 14 will be subject to different rules.
If any of these job candidates test positive for nicotine, they will be required to take part in cessation activities or classes during a probationary employment period.
Applicants will be tested again at the end of their probation. If they test positive, they will be discharged.
Hires after July 15 will be subject to nicotine or tobacco testing if there is “reasonable” suspicion they used the substances. This includes signs such as tobacco odor or breath.
The city says it will not test employees based on anonymous complaints, and legitimate complaints have to come from a “reliable person with personal knowledge,” according to the human resources policy.
Employees hired after July 15 who test positive for nicotine may be required to comply with a nicotine cessation program, if they are not discharged. They may be required to undergo follow-up testing for as many as five years.
More carrot, less stick
The new policy is cost driven and targets a certain demographic that likely will affect hiring, said Ann Sulfridge, president of AFSCME Local 101, which represents about 800 blue-collar and clerical city employees.
“It narrows the pool of candidates you can draw from,” she said. “I would rather see more carrot and less stick.”
Sulfridge said she is concerned this could be the first step on a slippery slope. She said she does not think employers should be able to dictate their workers’ lawful lifestyle decisions if they do not affect work performance or employees’ job abilities.
Sulfridge said obesity is a health care concern, but she wouldn’t want employers to measure job candidates’ body mass indexes to decide whom to hire.
Pain for police recruiting?
The city says some of its most expensive health care claims are related to diseases caused by nicotine and tobacco use, which makes its push for a tobacco-free workplace and workforce understandable, said Oakley, with the FOP.
“I think they’re doing what the trend is in the private sector,” he said. “They are looking at their bigger health care claims.”
But this policy definitely will hurt police recruiting in an already tough environment, because of reduced interest in police work and a strong economy offering many other work opportunities, Oakley said.
Oakley said perhaps a quarter of the police force uses tobacco, and most officers use chewing tobacco. Police recruits do not become part of the bargaining unit until they complete the academy.
Oakley said he, too, is worried about a slippery slope because tobacco and nicotine are legal products that he believes do not affect work performance.
He said, “We’re waiting to see how it pans out, but if it really starts affecting our new hire numbers, then we may have to have another sit-down discussion about it.”
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