Where there's smoke, there's firing
Your money or your lifestyle, part 1
As if it isn't bad enough that the government almost universally bans smoking in the workplace, now some employers are taking these kinds of Draconian measures even farther than the "revenuers"
According to a recent CBSNews.com story which originated on that network's famous "60 Minutes" news show, a pair of longtime model employees at a Michigan insurance consulting firm have been fired because they smoke cigarettes. Not while on the job, not even while on the premises during break times - but while off-duty and away from the firm. At home. In their cars. In a bar. Anywhere.
That's right, simply BEING SMOKERS resulted in their termination.
Apparently, this kind of "lifestyle discrimination" is perfectly legal in 45 out of 50 states. It isn't just in private companies, either. The CBSnews piece states that lots of municipal government entities and even some major metropolitan police departments refuse to hire smokers as well. Almost universally, these smoking-intolerant employers cite bottom-line reasons for the policy. Health care costs and health insurance are costlier for smokers than for non-smokers (a truism I'd challenge on the evidence, for the most part).
One of the article's sources, a bio-ethics professor, stated that around 5% of employees account for fully half the healthcare expenditures employers shell out. Needless to say, identifying these pariahs can save a boss a lot of dough. However, the same could be said of very obese people (even more so, I'd wager) - yet the fatties enjoy protection from discrimination under federal law.
Is this fair? I mean, as surely as people can quit smoking, they could also quit shoveling junk food into their faces, right? So why isn't there a law prohibiting discrimination against smokers - especially if they only do it in the privacy of their own homes? And speaking of privacy and "lifestyle" discrimination, why can't employers fire employees who are gay? Isn't this also a riskier way to live, from a healthcare standpoint? The same goes for the disabled. Aren't healthcare costs for the handicapped typically far higher than for the healthy and fit? Why can't companies refuse employment to them?
Some of these are rhetorical questions, of course. I'm not suggesting that discriminating against the disabled should be allowed-I'm just making a point
And the part I really don't understand is this: If I'm not mistaken, most companies' health insurance plans are "group" plans. The calculate risk based on the aggregate total risk of all on the plan - smokers and non-smokers, drinkers and teetotalers, couch potatoes and marathoners (talk about high risk!). Yes, theoretically, a work force comprised entirely of non-smokers would cost a company less to insure than one in which everyone smoked
So why don't they just charge the smokers the difference in their premiums? If they still choose to smoke, they do so on their own dime, with no additional cost to their employers. Problem solved, right? Not quite. Keep reading
This trend is disturbing on many levels, but most of all this: It opens the door to utter tyranny on the part of employers.
Now, as you know, I'm usually staunchly on the side of business. I'm a true advocate of the "laissez-faire" system of free enterprise. I hate the very idea of anyone telling an employer who they can or can't hire for any reason
But this sets a dangerous precedent. Think about it: If you drink too much - and THEY determine what's too much based on a bunch of mainstream junk medicine - you could soon be on the chopping block. Like to ski or play flag football on weekends? Sorry, too risky. You're fired. Own a gun? I don't know, you could have an accident and get hurt, or you might go postal over this ridiculous Big Brother policy and shoot the place up. Gotta let you go, too (more on exactly this in the next Dose).
See where I'm going with this? Where's it all end - when we're all identical Stepford slaves instead of individuals who bring our own collective differences to a workplace and make it stronger through our diversity?
So what's the solution - aside from more government legislation that protects this minority but not that one, these activities but not the other ones, or this lifestyle as opposed to another?
No. It's to rethink health insurance. We should either eliminate it and go back to true free-market "cash on the barrelhead" medicine (costs would plummet overnight), or we should make it ILLEGAL for employers to offer health insurance. If that were the case, folks would pay for their own insurance based solely on their own risk factors, and employers would simply have to offer larger salaries to attract good employees
Whether they smoke, drink, ski, shoot or not (again, more on this in the next few days).
Never joking about those shunning smoking,
William Campbell Douglass II, MD