Company Fires All Employees Who Smoke

Let the lawsuits begin.

LANSING, Mich. — Four employees of a health care company have been fired for refusing to take a test to determine whether they smoke cigarettes.

Weyco Inc., a health benefits administrator based in Okemos, Mich., adopted a policy Jan. 1 that allows employees to be fired if they smoke, even if the smoking happens after business hours or at home.

Company founder Howard Weyers has said the anti-smoking rule was designed to shield the firm from high health care costs. “I don’t want to pay for the results of smoking,” he said.

The rule led one employee to quit before the policy was adopted. Four others were fired when they balked at the smoking test.

Update:

Looks like this is happening in more than one place.
(Thanks Marlea)

Comments

18 Comments so far. Leave a comment below.
  1. anon,

    What’s next? Are they going to fire employees who ride motorcycles without a helmet? (that’s potential health care costs waiting to happen); how about firing employees who live on Big Mac’s and Fries (ditto re: health care costs).

    Sheesh — thought this was the USA.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  2. steve duncan,

    I don’t have much sympathy for smokers. Lots of poor health habits don’t directly affect others, such as the above helmet or poor diet references. Indirectly every irresponsible action affects us all, as the cost of health care increases due to personal abuse of the body. The key difference with smoking is when smokers subject others to second hand smoke. I cringe when I see a child in an enclosed vehicle with a smoker puffing away. That same child most assuredly is afflicted with the same second hand smoke throughout its daily existance. Later in life that child will suffer from asthma, emphysema, sinus troubles, possible early onset of various lung ailments including cancer, etc. He or she will call off sick at work, disrupting productivity for other employees and adversly affecting the viability of the company. He’ll also increase health care premiums because the company has higher claim rates due to him and others like him. Personally were a higher power to initiate some sort of “rapture” event and cause all smokers to vanish from the planet I’d never miss one of them in the slightest. Good riddance not only from work but from life amongst the living altogether!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  3. Chris,

    Congratulations Steve, out of the thousands of comments I have received, your comment is by far the silliest. People have a right to smoke in their own homes. If you want to make an argument about not doing it in front of children or others that is fine and I am sure anyone with common sense would agree but an employer has no right to enforce their will upon others.

    “Good riddance not only from work but from life amongst the living altogether!”

    That statement is pure concentrated ignorance.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  4. steve duncan,

    Ignorance of what, exactly? There are literally millions of Americans that not only don’t want smokers in their workplace, they don’t want them in restaurants, parks public gatherings of any kind. The very fact that available venues to smoke are steadily, inexorably shrinking away to nothing indicates many if not most people don’t want smokers smoking ANYWHERE. If I’m ignorant so be it, but it’s an ignorance shared by millions.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  5. Chris,

    People have the right to smoke in their own homes if they want to don’t they? Tobacco is still legal isn’t it? Hell, I am a nonsmoker and I think it remains legal. People have a choice to do what they want and should have that choice. These people were fired for being smokers, not because they were smoking in public.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  6. Cardinal Biggles,

    People have the right to smoke in their own homes, of course, but where the issue gets complicated (and the reson cited by the employer in question) is that we have communal health-care arrangements, which means that a smokers’ health problems become the business of the whole health insurance-paying community. Related to anon’s comment, in some states (like California) it IS illegal to ride a motorcycle without a helmet, as well as a car without a seatbelt. Because it’s not just you who’s paying for your medical costs. That’s why it’s hard to espouse a credible, practical libertarianism in a modern developed society; the whole system is already too interconnected.

    Incidentally, legally speaking, there’s no such thing as “smoker’s rights” – no court will uphold them because smoking is understood to be voluntary.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  7. roklobsta,

    uhhhhhhh………this is still america, right?

    according to their logic, they can implement new (i’ll use their word) ‘rules’ to fire anyone who is overweight because of those health risks, anyone who likes to skydive or participate in other extreme sports, anyone who tests positive to be diabetic …. and on and on. it matters not that they chose smoking. what matters is that people are free,in america, to do what they want, in accordance with american laws, of course, in their own homes on their own time. this seems to be a huge infringement of their rights.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  8. Hahahahah…and we looked down on Communism.
    Who knew that it would prove to be a system that offered more personal freedom.

    Seriously, there is no doubt that smoking is unhealthy. However, it’s still legal.
    If our governments weren’t hypocritical, it would forgo billions of dollars in cigarette taxes in order to save us from ourselves.
    Make it illegal and the argument is moot.

    Ahhhh, but all those tax dollars, when we can point a finger at private companies and still collect…..it’s too good to let go.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  9. steve duncan,

    roklobsta, the very examples of what you would consider improper limitations of employment already exist. If you have a CDL (commercial driver’s license) and flunk a blood sugar test at your Federally mandated bi-yearly physical you’re given time to come within compliance. If you fail to do so you lose your CDL, hence losing your job. There are probably many other jobs where safety issues involve the same requirement (airline pilot possibly?). As to involvement in extreme sports or other physically risky behavior the sports world commonly contractually prohibits athletes from engaging in such activities as a condition of employment. Now as to your statement “…..in their own homes on their own time. this seems to be a huge infringement of their rights.” Since when is nearly all behavior legal or proper merely due to the fact it’s conducted in private in a personal residence? Criminal law extends into your home. Citing privacy issues as you do would justify on its face the ability to abuse your children, run a meth lab or print currency in your basement. Sure, they’re all illegal but hey, “I’M DOING THEM ALL IN MY OWN HOME!”. Trap a small child in a tiny room and pump cigarette smoke into it artificially with some sort of machine. The authorities will rightfully arrest you for child abuse. Trap the same small child in a small room and have four smokers puff away around a poker table for several hours. What’s that called? Child abuse? Nah, just four guys having a good ol’ time.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  10. Chris,

    Steve, you are trying to obfuscate the argument by throwing in the nonsense about child abuse. The topic was about an individual’s right to smoke at home. They weren’t fired for endangering children’s health. They could have been single living in a cave for all we know. The problem is it is a dangerous precedent to try to govern one’s habits and since tobacco is still legal a company shouldn’t have the right to pry into a person’s privacy to ascertain if they are smoking or not. Using the health insurance as an excuse to can somebody sets a dangerous precedent. Where does it end?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  11. Anonymous,

    I wonder about the specificity and sensitivity of the ‘CO concentration breath analyser’. In what percentage of cases will a ‘positive’ measure be a ‘false positive’? Especially if the a priori probability of the subject being a smoker is very small, the test better have a very high specificity for it to be of any infomative value.

    Furthermore, this test may give positive results related to second-hand smoking. Therefore, as I assume that these employers allow their employees hang around with smokers (maybe their husband or wife), the diagnostic value of this test may be seriously questioned.

    Finally, freedom starts by respecting other individuals freedom. Therefore, while I strongly agree that non-smokers have the right to live in a smoke-free environment, I don’t quite understand why some people absolutely want to force their own choices onto that of others.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  12. Cardinal Biggles,

    Chris, if you ever read anything about how these cases turn out, I hope you post it. I’m quite curious, because as far as I know, “smoker’s rights” have not yet been recognized in a courtroom. So this will be a precedent-setting case if they find in favor of the sacked employee.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  13. Michigan Resident,

    Just for all of your information…I live in Michigan and might be able to clear up some of the law questions here.

    1) Michigan is an “at will” state, which means employers can fire employees for any reason or no reason at all as long as there is no federal law against that type of firing. As far as I know, there is no federal law protecting smokers. So, the fired employees in this situation have no basis to sue and they’d be hard pressed to find a lawyer that would attempt a lawsuit.

    2) In reference to earlier comments, there are helmet and seatbelt laws in Michigan.

    That being said. I think that it is ridiculous to fire people for participating in a LEGAL activity on their own time. How would that testing work anyway? Let’s say one person is a non-smoker, but his/her spouse smokes (and they have no kids…since that seems to be an issue with some of you) how do you get an accurate reading? I know some of you may bring up the fact that the company probably pays into the spouse’s insurance so better yet, what if a non-smoker and a smoker are roommates…what then?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  14. Chris,

    Cardinal,
    As far as I know, nobody has filed suit. I am sure one of the people who were fired will try. I will try to find out if they do.

    MI Resident, I found this on google.
    http://www.fairmeasures.com/asklawyer/questions/ask323.html

    They may have a case after all.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  15. spigoo,

    Now this gets really scary…
    http://medicolegal.tripod.com/donthire.htm

    “Smokers have disproportionately higher rates of behaviors dangerous to themselves, others, and property. These behaviors include some that can be deemed immoral, illegal, career-shortening, or otherwise disqualifying. Examples include: Abortion, AIDS, Alcoholism, Alzheimer’s, Blindness, Crime, Divorce, Drugs, Fires, Heart Disease, Lung Cancer, Mental Disorders, Seat Belt Disuse, SIDS , Suicide. It is smokers who disproportionately commit such acts. In the broad sense, crime includes sexual harassment and other abuses directed against coworkers on the job. (Smokers disproportionately commit crime).”

    I especially like the “sexual harassment” item which must be an attempt to find a reason to justify not hiring smokers…

    Damn… I’m so glad I left United States eight years ago!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  16. Chris,

    Not so fast Spigoo

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/1657624.stm

    The war against smoking seems to be global :)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  17. roklobsta,

    steve, if you had read my post correctly you would have seen that i said, and i quote, “people are free,in america, to do what they want, in accordance with american laws, of course, in their own homes on their own time.”
    did you see that? in accordance with american laws. i also didnt infer that you should be getting trashed right before you head into work. get a grip!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  18. Michigan Resident,

    Chris-
    That link you posted answers the question of discrimination based on weight, you’ll notice nothing is really said about the smoking issue. Like it or not, according to Michigan’s at will laws, there is nothing preventing a company from letting go an employee for smoking. Smokers aren’t protected here or federally. Lawyers are pretty crafty, though. Maybe they’ll figure something out.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

Trackbacks

One Trackback
  1. January 26, 2005 Anonymous

Creative Commons License