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March 3rd, 2010 WW Editorial Staff | Rogue of the Week
 

Providence Health & Services

A company policy that should be snuffed out.

     
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We’re diagnosing Providence Health & Services as this week’s Rogue for a company policy that goes too far.

“Effective Monday, March 1, employees may no longer smoke on hospital properties or surrounding properties while wearing any Providence clothing,” Providence CEO Dave Underriner wrote in a Feb. 24 email to staff. “This includes Providence identification badges, scrubs, uniforms, laboratory/medical jackets, logo apparel (such as Providence vests), and surgical caps, booties and hair nets. Additionally, offensive odors (including the smell of smoke) will not be tolerated in the workplace.”

Ban smoking in the workplace? Great idea, especially for a healthcare provider. On company property? Absolutely.

But “offensive odors” from the smell of smoke from off its property? C’mon.

If Providence’s 16,000-plus employees smoke at the same 17 percent rate as other Oregonians, more than 2,700 of them light up regularly. Say one of them has a smoke when they’re on break or at lunch and returns to work. Does that mean workers will be punished if a supervisor detects an “offensive odor”?

Underriner attributes the policy to complaints from “unhappy visitors and community members.” But many Providence employees do not work with patients or the public.

And why should Providence stop at smoking if it’s concerned about unhealthy behavior of employees at a healthcare company? Why not extend the restrictions to a ban on driving to work in pollution-producing SUVs or a rule against wearing Providence gear while eating trans-fat-laden double cheeseburgers with fries?

“We expect everyone to follow this policy,” Underriner writes of the tobacco restrictions. “It will be enforced with disciplinary action, if necessary.”

American Civil Liberties Union Oregon boss Dave Fidanque says, absent a collective bargaining agreement that stipulates otherwise, Providence has carte blanche to impose the limits.

“Generally, private employers can have any policy they want unless it violates state law,” Fidanque says.

Oregon law does forbid employers from prohibiting smoking during nonworking hours “except when [the] restriction relates to a bona fide occupational requirement.” But Bob Estabrook, a spokesman for the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, says until a Providence employee complains, it’s impossible to say whether the new policy violates the law.

Providence spokesman Gary Walker defends the policy, emailing that “the response to this new guideline has been overwhelmingly positive—30 to 1 in favor, based on the responses coming in from employees and people in the community.”

Maybe so, but we know a bona fide Rogue when we smell one.

 
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