Smoking and employment

Sometimes students think we make it up. Tuesday we talked about employers monitoring off-duty conduct such as smoking. After many students expressed disbelief that an employer could discharge an at-will employee for smoking–“But smoking is legal!”–I related how The Scotts Company did that very thing a few years ago. Welcome to at-will employment. The next day an alert student emailed this article from 39 Whirlpol workers suspended over smoking lies. The workers signed statements for Whirlpool’s insurers that they do not use tobacco “and then were seen smoking or chewing tobacco on company property.” Some may be fired–for lying about smoking, not for smoking. The company employs financial incentives to discourage smoking, charging tobacco users an extra $500 for annual health insurance premiums, practice common for large companies (with more than 20,000 employees), 16 percent of which charge higher insurance premiums to tobacco users.

10 thoughts on “Smoking and employment”

  1. I read about this incident too. I guess it makes sense to charge those who engage in behaviors that make their insurance cost extra.

  2. Although smoking is highly addictive and I understand the argument that people cannot simply quit smoking, I still can’t see past the fact that people voluntarily chose to smoke despite the many negative consequences. To me, it makes sense that companies try to discourage their employees from smoking, not only will it benefit the company because of lower health insurance and other costs, but it will also benefit the employee because they are given the needed resources to quit smoking.

  3. I feel that the employees that cost the company more should be charged. However, I do feel that companies who want to change the lifestyle habits of their employees must be able to do so only if they can show a clearcut relationship between the habit and its negative effects on the performance of employees. Also, its better to give employees more time and help to change, instead of firing them right away. That way companies will not lose talented employees that can’t be replaced easily. Ultimately, I feel the decision lies in the hands of the employees. If they want to stay, they should be willing to change and if not, then they can quit at will.

  4. I think the employees who signed the at-will agreements should be held liable for their actions. Regardless, if they smoked in the privacy of their own home or on company property, they signed a contract. If they did not agree to the terms of the contract, they should not have signed it. In other instances, if the company did not make their employees sign such contract, they have no right to fire the employee.

  5. Whether or not smoking is a healthy activity has nothing to do with whether a company can monitor the habit. After all of our discussions in class I now understand that even when a person has a legal right to do something (ie: smoke, sky dive, drink alcohol, be obese) an employer has (and should have) the right to make their own employment restrictions toward these behaviors. It is no different than requiring someone to have a certain skill to be eligible for employment. It is also the same principle that allows employers to hire cheaper (yet otherwise similar) labor for their own economic benefit.

  6. The fact that companies can dig deep into one’s personal life is a bit disturbing. However, in this instance I feel that Whirlpool made the correct decision to suspend these employees. All of the employees signed at-will agreements, which in a sense gives the company the right to fire them at any given time. And the company provided financial incentives for those who did not smoke. Therefore, those who lied claiming they didn’t smoke were attempting to reap the benefits of the insurance premium discount. To make matters worse, they decided to smoke right on company property. It’s like someone robbing a bank, and then going back to the bank a few hours later to deposit the cash. The employees tried to cheat the system, and they failed miserably.

  7. So on the same logic…if employer’s are able to control the outside lives of their employees…can employer’s not hire people or fire people because they have a personal myspace or facebook account. I have heard of all the companies that ban it from work place and make sure it does not reflect poorly on the company, but can a company make an ultimatum that if any employees has a personal facebook account they can be fired?

  8. It seems to me that bad or dangerous habits/addictions like smoking or skydiving warrant discrimination against, because those hobbies could in fact indirectly hurt the company. Referring to Alex’s question– A person who skydives and base jumps has a much higher risk of dying than someone who has a facebook or myspace account. It goes back to the fact of how much will this employee cost us in the long run? If they want the cream of the crop, and smoking plays into the equation as a negative attribute, it is only fair to require their employees to be smoke free if they wish.

  9. Since the employees are being fired for lying about smoking than actually smoking, it does not seem exceptional that they are being fired. Companies absorb a greater cost in insurance premiums for employees who smoke and employees that lie about it are hurting the company. In this case, Whirlpool doesn’t even prohibit smoking but offers a disincentive to company smokers. In the end, employment is meant to benefit the employer and therefore the employer should have the right to terminate employees that are detrimental to its cause.

  10. Consistency is the key. What do you do when you see funny things like this:

    Seriously tho, smoking is a free right, and for as long as the luxury tax makes a pack cost about 100x more than it really should, smokers will blame governments that they’re spending it on the wrong thing and blaming them for it.
    Having the luxury tax transformed to be an additional support for health care should solve loads of issues, this as well in particular.

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