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It is well-documented that making your employees’ health and well-being a priority is a sound decision for any workplace. Organizations that implement well-managed employee wellness programs can reap the benefits of happy, healthy and productive workers, including lower health care costs and higher attendance, retention and productivity.

Many employers have committed to workplace wellness plans in recent years, making changes from purging junk food options from vending machines and cafeterias to holding company-wide weight loss and fitness competitions in the style of the reality show “The Biggest Loser.”

Humana Inc., one of the major health insurance providers, is taking this employee wellness commitment to a new and controversial level: refusing to hire smokers in Arizona.

As of July 1, Humana will no longer hire employees in Arizona who smoke or use other tobacco products, in an effort to set an example for healthy behavior. The company will screen new hires for nicotine use in a pre-employment urine test. When new employees start to work for Humana, they will agree to abstain from smoking and using tobacco products while employed by the company. If they begin to use tobacco, they will be required to report the usage and enroll in a free program that helps people quit through counseling and nicotine-replacement products.

Smokers who already work for Humana won’t be required to quit, but they will be encouraged to quit and will be offered smoking-cessation help.

A Tough Approach to Employee Wellness

Humana representatives say smoking causes around 443,000 deaths each year and the new policy leads by example and supports the company’s role in the health-care field. Humana implemented a similar program for its new employees in Ohio two years ago, and 78 percent of employees now report being tobacco-free.

“Cigarette smoking increases the risk of cancer and shorten life spans,” Humana spokesman Ross McLerran said in a USA Today article. “We’re trying to provide a workplace that is safe and healthy. We do care about the health of our associates.”

According to legal experts, there is no law that protects smokers from a hiring ban of this kind.

What do you think of Humana’s new crackdown on smoking in the workplace? It is a bold move, one that could be applauded as an important step toward employee wellness or criticized as overstepping a company’s right to dictate the behavior of its workers.

Would you support implementing a similar program in your own organization? Why or why not? Share your comments below.

Get ideas for workplace wellness plans from EDSI.

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