The Auckland District Health Board, is considering extending its anti-smoking policy to include not hiring staff who smoke.

The Auckland DHB employs over 10,000 people, and currently has a smoking ban in place on its sites that includes staff, patients and the public.

Extending the ban to recruitment of smokers is a major step though.

Nurses Organisation spokeswoman Kerri Nuku said the union would oppose the plan, which “goes against everything we stand for in terms of equal opportunity”.

She said nurses had an elevated rate of smoking, one New Zealand survey finding a rate of 35 per cent. Around 20 per cent of the general adult population smoke.

Auckland DHB executive director of nursing Taima Campbell put the new ideas to the board after a frustrated father of a sick child objected to her having to inhale secondhand smoke outside the Starship children’s hospital.

The man threatened legal action, but is now satisfied with the stationing of a security guard at the hospital’s entrance to send smokers off-site.

Ms Campbell’s proposals include a policy of hiring only non-smokers as health workers, because of their “responsibilities to be positive role models in dealing with patients and the public”.

The DHB said last night that the policy was “still in development”.

The Smoke-free Environments Act bans smoking indoors at workplaces as well as outdoors at schools and early childhood centres’.

However, DHBs, prisons, some universities and some sports stadiums have voluntarily banned smoking anywhere on their sites.

The Human Rights Commission said the DHB would be within its rights not to hire smokers.

“Although this may not be considered fair or reasonable, it is not unlawful,” a spokesman said.

This is because smoking is not specified in legislation as a banned reason for discrimination.

Comment

We had better get used to more of this type of workplace policy. Throughout the western world the bans on smoking have been gaining ground.

The banning of smoking in public places in New York City is a recent major example of how far the anti-smoking lobby has come.

It is inevitable that workplaces, after being early adopters of smoking bans in the 1990’s are going to catch up with the new level of pressure that local authorities and central governments are exerting on smokers.

We haven’t quite got to the stage of smokers being shot on sight, but the vibe is heading in that direction.

Making the hiring of non-smokers mandatory in a workplace is not as easy as it seems. While it may be legal to discriminate against smokers, there could be a possible public backlash against employers who make a stand against hiring smokers.

An employer like the Auckland DHB does have legitimate grounds for not hiring smokers as their corporate messages are strongly anti-smoking on health grounds. But an architectural firm or a manufacturer? There is not a lot of logic to not hiring smokers other than falling into line with the social engineering of government.

Any employer who wants to be operating a ‘best practice’ recruitment system is going to be shooting themselves in the foot if they have a preferred candidate for a role but do not hire them because they are a smoker.

There is also going to be some tricky employment relations issues if a staff member who declared themselves a non-smoker when they were hired, subsequently gets caught smoking.

Many employers already have smoking at work listed as misconduct in their employment policies. But sacking an employee who lied about their smoking status when recruited is going to be a whole new level of complexity.

The first test case for this type of dismissal will be watched with interest.