Michigan firm not justified in firing smokers
Published: Thursday, February 10th, 2005
Nineteenth-century migrants to the West often advertised for schoolteachers with the requirement that they be of “good moral character.” Teachers were expected to attend church and avoid smoking and drinking. Today private conduct usually is a workplace consideration if somehow that conduct brings some quantifiable disrepute to one’s employer. But it is a considerable stretch to leap from there to trying to justify the actions of Weyco Inc., an Okemos, Mich., medical benefits administration firm. Weyco, The Associated Press reported, has decreed that anyone who smokes tobacco will be fired. It dismissed four employees Jan. 1 who didn’t quit smoking when ordered to do so. It’s one thing to bar an employee from smoking during work hours or even on the premises at all. It’s another to threaten to terminate an employee for smoking on his or her own time and elsewhere. The last several years’ meteoric rise in health care premiums rightfully leaves most employers shuddering with apprehension about what catastrophic illness in one or more workers may financially cripple the company bank account. But Weyco’s iron-handed action — and those of other businesses like it — will more likely send their employees into hiding to light up rather than quit. Policies such as Weyco’s also encourage the busybody impulse among co-workers seeking to get in good with the boss to rat out a colleague’s sneaking a smoke. What’s surprising about Weyco is about 10 percent of its employees already had quit through a company-funded quit-smoking program. Such proactive approaches will do more to help workers stop smoking for good than the threat of pink slips.
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