But McEwen has a different perspective. "It's easy for the employer to blame the employee rather than look at problems in the system." She contends that if hospitals and healthcare systems really want to improve employee quality of life, they should look into alleviating understaffing, unsafe work environments, productivity demands, and employee exposure to workplace intimidation.
Gordon agrees that this will not be the last time working people will hear of the unhealthy being scapegoated. "Why wouldn't you want to hire an obese person? Because obesity is possibly a marker for other health conditions," he says, highlighting the similar health risk factors between smoking and being obese.
Gordon compares the situation to the unfair practice of asking young, female employees or potential employees if they were recently married, with the hidden agenda of deciding whether or not they're likely to get pregnant in the near future. "It's unlawful discrimination. You can't legally discriminate, so you find a pseudo-legal marker you can use," he said.
Lena J. Weiner is an associate editor at HealthLeaders Media.