Los Angeles Times Examines Employer Efforts To Make Employees Quit Smoking
The Los Angeles Times on Friday examined how some employers have begun "refusing to hire applicants who smoke and ... firing employees who refuse to quit" to help reduce health care costs. Last fall, Nebraska-based transportation company Union Pacific decided to no longer hire smokers in seven states to help reduce health care costs, which have increased at rates of more than 10% annually in the last three years. In addition, Michigan employee benefits company Weyco on Jan. 1 began to conduct random tests on employees for nicotine. Workers who fail the tests must agree to quit smoking or face termination.
Other employers have begun to require applicants to sign no-smoking agreements, add "non-smokers only" language to job descriptions or require employees who smoke to pay higher health insurance premiums. "Employers are realizing the majority of health costs are spent on a small minority of workers," Bill Whitmer, CEO of the Health Enhancement Research Organization, said.
Some employees, workers' rights groups and unions have criticized efforts by employers to make employees quit smoking as a violation of individual rights, adding that "it's not clear" smokers have higher health care costs than other workers, the Times reports. Federal and state laws mandate that employers cannot reject applicants or terminate employees based on race, religion or gender, but few states have implemented similar legal protections for smokers.
The National Workrights Institute has sought to convince more states to implement such protections (Costello, Los Angeles Times, 1/28).