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S. Pasadena Gives Hiring Preference to Non-Smokers

February 09, 1986|ALAN MALTUN | Times Staff Writer

SOUTH PASADENA — In what appears to be the broadest action of its kind in the state, the city has adopted a new hiring policy favoring non-smokers over smokers in all job categories.

At least three other cities--Monrovia, Downey and San Mateo--have stricter policies requiring all newly hired firefighters to be nonsmokers. South Pasadena's policy specifies only that preference be given to hiring non-smoking job seekers, but it appears to be the first time a California city has extended the concept to all jobs. A League of California Cities spokeswoman said she knew of no other city that had adopted a similar hiring guideline.

The policy requires that, whenever possible, Police and Fire Department positions be filled with workers who have not smoked for at least one year. Preference will be given to non-smoking applicants for all other jobs as well. The policy does not affect the 118 employees already on the payroll.

Must Sign Statement

Employees hired as non-smokers must sign a statement that they have not smoked for a year and that they understand they can be fired if they begin smoking during their probationary periods, which range from 12 to 18 months. The policy did not specify how the city will monitor new employees.

The policy, which was approved by a 4-1 vote, was sponsored by Councilman Lee Prentiss, who said its purpose was to save the city money by reducing the number of disability retirements.

Prentiss and other city officials said they are concerned because heart disease, cancer and other illnesses attributed to job-related causes in disability claims also could be caused by smoking.

"My intent was a long-term cost-saving measure," said Prentiss, who smoked for 17 years before quitting several years ago. "Smokers are more likely to develop health problems and take sick leave. We suffer the costs, but they're the long-term sufferers."

Councilman David Margrave opposed the idea, saying it is "another infringement on our ability to hire good people." He also criticized the policy as "limited" because it does not stop an employee from smoking after his probationary period ends.

City Atty. Charles Vose, who drafted the council's resolution, said the policy should pose no legal problems because the courts have ruled that smokers "are not a protected class within the Constitution."

Enforcement Called Difficult

City Manager John Bernardi said enforcement of the policy will be difficult because it will be based on a "a semi-honor system." But, he added, "there are consequences to getting caught. They will have to weigh whether or not it (being fired for smoking) is worth worrying about."

Bernardi said the city did not totally exclude smokers from employment because it has had difficulty recruiting for some managerial and white-collar positions. He said he has heard no complaints from any employee union representatives.

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