Employers Fire Workers Based on Lifestyle Choices

Employers Fire Workers Based on Lifestyle Choices

If you were the boss of a company, would you like to pay higher health insurance for ones bad choices? Within the past few years there have been reports in Michigan of two women being fired from their job because they failed to quit smoking. They worked at Weyco, an insurance company, for many years. The boss gave his employees fifteen months to quit smoking, otherwise they would be fired. Others quit smoking in order to save their jobs, but these women could not. (Is Smoking a Firing Offense?).

Many employees respect the bosses’ decision of making the workplace non-smoking. However, many employees feel that bosses should not control the activities one participates in outside of work. The workers feel that as long as the activity is legal then it is their right to partake in things such as smoking that makes their life more enjoyable (Is Smoking a Firing Offense?). This leads to the issue that bosses of companies have the right to fire employees if they are given ample time to quit smoking and still can not break the habit. There are many cases in which bosses are taking action by firing their employees for the use of tobacco products. If a boss gives an employee plenty of time to quit smoking or makes an employee well aware that the use of tobacco products is not tolerated by the company, then really where is the case that they should not be released from their job.

Smoking not only affects one’s body, but the amount of medical care he or she will need in the upcoming years. It is well known that the use of tobacco has a negative effect on the human body. Tobacco is the leading preventable cause of death. Reports(which one?) estimate 420,000 American smokers are killed yearly (Glantz et al xvii). One of the main problems is that people believe they are invincible and will never die from the use of tobacco. In fact, smoking not only affects oneself, but others who come in contact with the smoking. Secondhand smoke, also known as environmental tobacco smoke, is a complex mixture of gases and particles that includes smoke from the burning of a cigarette, cigar, or pipe tip, and exhaled mainstream smoke (Secondhand Smoke). Another definition of secondhand smoke is an exposure to smoke while in the presence of smokers. This results in the death of 53,000 American, non-smokers every year (Glantz et al xvii). The results of smoking can lead to the disease, lung cancer. Lung cancer is an abnormal reproduction of cells in one or both of the lungs. Lumps of cancer cells known as tumors will begin to appear. This disease disrupts the lungs ability to perform the necessary duties required for exchanging oxygen and carbon dioxide with the blood (Lloyd). However, the number of cigars, cigarettes, or other forms of tobacco greatly affects how susceptible one is to acquiring this disease. The use of tobacco can also lead to other smoking related illnesses. A few illnesses that are increased in a smoker are strokes, Emphysema, and other cancers.

Bosses have this right to fire their workers at will because using tobacco endangers ones body and there is no law in Michigan or the majority of states saying they are not allowed to dismiss an employee. There are other speculations that businesses want to cut back on expenses and the easiest target is smokers because they increase healthcare for most companies (Is Smoking a Firing Offense?). The issue of smoking is not only a concern in the United States, but internationally in England. A report(which report?) tells of a man who was a Sales Executive fired from his second day on the job for smoking. He was told in his interview that the company did not permit the usage of tobacco products. He assumed this policy only applied at the office or in his company car (Man fired for smoking at home). Since firing one from his or her job is very controversial, companies have tried different methods.
Employees at R.L. Stowe Mills joined a quit smoking program at the company’s plants in Belmont and Chattanooga, Tennessee. After the employees passed certain time periods without the use of nicotine, they received incentives such as money. For instance, after passing a six month time period they received two hundred dollars for the money they invested into the program. The employees will receive five hundred dollars as a bonus if they pass a test given in the future. This program was also offered to the spouses of the employees to reduce the cost of family health insurance. Many people believe that the bosses are just doing this to save their company’s money, but they truly care about the well-being of their employees. One employee who was successful with the program stated he doesn’t wake up every morning with a cough. There are many benefits to quitting smoking and if some people want to keep their jobs they will stop smoking because there are few laws protecting them from not losing their job (Depriest).

In 1964, the Civil Rights Act added another law, Title VII. This act states many laws protecting citizens from being discriminated against for their race, religion, etc. The Commission on Equal Employment Opportunity addresses the topic of bosses firing their employees at will. The term employer in this act means a person engaged in an industry affecting commerce that has fifteen or more employees for each working day. The term employment agency means any person regularly undertaking with or without compensation to procure employees for an employer or to procure for employees opportunities to work for an employer and includes an agent of such a person (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964). Many of the companies that have fired their workers fall under these categories. One could argue this law by stating the United States government is supposed to protect workers from being unfairly fired. However, there are other doctrines and acts that more specifically discuss the guidelines of firing an employee at will. Federal employee rights make the individual states adhere to the minimum laws that employers must follow. Therefore, states are allowed to stay within those laws or expand upon them. The Employment at Will Doctrine views employment as voluntarily and indefinite, giving one’s employer the right to fire one at any given time. This Doctrine also gives employees the right to quit. This doctrine is typically enforced under common law (Niznik). A common law means a system of law that is derived from judges' decisions, rather than constitutions. Following this doctrine, employers can fire their workers for any reason that doesn’t conflict with Federal law.

The Model Employment Termination Act (META) states that an employee may not have his or her employment terminated without “good cause”. However, each state is left to decide whether to apply the META to employees of local government. Employers who have fewer than five employees do not legally have to enforce the META. For an employee to be protected by this act, they must have been employed for longer than the span of a year. There are rules that a worker could legitimately use to defend their case of being fired unfairly, but one would have to be cautious of these rules. Each state has its own set of rules, therefore the individual cannot use laws from other states. Not only is it a bosses right to be able to fire an employee at will, there are other factors that make an employer more likely to fire a smoker. Health insurance is an important issue of why companies don’t want to be held responsible for smokers. According to American Heritage, health insurance is a type of insurance whereby the insurer pays the medical costs of the insured if the insured becomes sick due to covered causes, or due to accidents. This insurance provides coverage for hospital visits, medicine, and any other medically related problems. Smokers increase health insurance because they are at a greater risk for illnesses related to smoking. The United States uses primarily private health insurance. Before registering for health insurance, one must fill out an application discussing their medical history. Being a smoker or non-smoker is one of the main questions insurance companies ask their customers. The advancement of medicine is increasing the life expectancy for a human. Obviously, as one ages the chances of them needing more medical attention increases, leading to the rise in health insurance cost. However, people can not help if they are aging, but one can decide to knowingly harm their body which will increase the amount of medical attention they need to receive.

Another factor dealing with health insurance is that company’s face higher premiums. Employers are requiring their employees to pay higher premiums to motivate smokers to quit and lower health care cost for companies (Cornwell). Employer- sponsored health insurance premiums have increased by double digits for the last four years. Smokers on average cost employers seven hundred and fifty three dollars more per year than non-smokers. Also, smokers miss on average two more workdays a year then non-smokers. Twenty-nine states have enacted lifestyle discrimination laws that prohibit employers from firing employees for their legal behaviors outside of work (Holt). This still leaves a large number of the states to fire their workers if they do not see their lifestyle meeting the expectations of the company. Businesses may not be going to the drastic measures such as the Weyco insurance company, but they are taking actions to make it publicly known that they do not promote the use of tobacco in their workplace. Dieter Benz who is a principal with Investors Property Management in Seattle says that, “We know that demographically approximately 25 percent of the adult population smokes, and that 25 percent tends to have less desirable characteristics in terms of employment.”

Smoking is not the image that many businesses like to make publicly known. Nearly sixty percent of businesses have smoke free workplaces and nineteen percent have restricted-smoking policies according to a national survey in 2003 by the consulting firm Hewitt Associates (Cornwell). If regulations have not been added to companies, they still have designated smoking areas so that other people are not put in danger by one’s choice to smoke. Smoking anywhere near a building for some companies such as Microsoft is becoming banned. Bosses can and will fire their employees if their lifestyle choices do not meet the standards of the companies. Almost all smokers feel this is a violation of their rights, but in fact, why should companies bear the responsibility of higher health insurance when they aren’t the ones harming their body. Smoking has many negative side effects. As one gets older and has smoked all their life, wrinkles increase and aging is more obvious. Most people who do not smoke can not stand the smell it leaves on ones breath or clothes. This in turn could lose business for a company if their workers don not maintain their appearance.

When applying to a job, one should see if there are specific laws prohibiting or allowing lifestyle discrimination. This is an issue that is becoming unavoidable when applying for a job. People need to research the state and company policies on the issue of smoking. If one is just outraged by the idea of being fired for smoking or agree that bosses do have the right, then talk to the state government and voice an opinion.