Okemos, MI—Weyco Inc., a medical benefits administrator, instituted a policy in January 2005 that banned employees from using tobacco, even during non-work hours. In fact, the company required employees to submit to random mandatory smoking breath tests. As a result, four of the two-hundred employees at the company quit rather than submit to the testing. The controversial move outraged some civil liberties groups; nevertheless, Michigan is one of twenty states that have no laws preventing employers from firing employees who smoke—both on and off the job. In an interview, Weyco founder and chief executive, Howard Weyers, argued that it was difficult for him to enact the policy but that he was forced to do so because of his rising healthcare costs. Before the policy in 2005, Weyco Inc. also quit hiring tobacco users in early 2003 and forbade the staff from smoking on the premises. In 2004, the company also added a fine of $50 a month per worker who smoked and refused to attend cessation classes.
Michigan happens to be an “at-will” state, or a state where it is legal for an employer to fire an employee at any time for any reason, except where anti-discrimination laws apply. However, collective bargaining agreements, express employment contracts, and implied employed contracts, also prevent employers from firing “at-will”. While quitting smoking is particularly important to reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease, and respiratory illness, civil liberties groups are especially concerned over how far company policies may go in threatening individual privacy.
Now, a Chattanooga, TN hospital is following suit. Beginning February 1, Memorial Hospital will no longer hire new employees that smoke and anyone offered employment at the hospital will have to submit to a test for nicotine use. While company policies that restrict hiring of smokers are rare, policies preventing smoking on the worksite are not. In fact, according to public health expert, Matthew Farrelly, director of the Public Health Policy research program at RTI, 80 percent of workplaces ban smoking indoors and 21 states have laws preventing smoking in bars, restaurants and all other workplaces. Overall, there hasn’t been much negative impact on the businesses that chose to go entirely smoke-free. However, smoking advocates maintain that the laws have gone too far in restricting their freedom to smoke.
recently named in the 2009 edition of Best Lawyer's In America, David Mittleman has been representing seriously injured people since 1985. A partner with Church Wyble PC—a division of Grewal Law PLLC—Mr. Mittleman and his partners focus on medical malpractice, wrongful death, car accidents, slip and falls, nursing home injury, pharmacy/pharmacist negligence and disability claims.