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Corporate No-smoking Policies Raise Tough Questions
The issues relating to corporate anti-smoking policies seem to have died down a bit since last fall, but I am still curious about the long-term impact of the announcement that Scotts Miracle-Gro Co. will begin, later this year, firing employees who have not quit smoking. Scotts took dramatic action with its anti-smoking policy because it wants to hold down health-insurance costs by “helping people live healthy lifestyles,” said James Hagedorn, chairman and chief executive.
Scotts has given employees a year to quit, along with free counseling, nicotine patches and smoking cessation classes. The no-smoking policy is one of many initiatives the company has taken to reduce health-care costs. Scotts also opened a $5 million fitness and medical facility for its employees.
With estimates that businesses incur almost $4,000 a year in additional costs from each smoker it employs (The National Business Group on Health estimates that each smoker costs employers $3,856 a year in added health-care costs and lost productivity), itâ€™s no wonder that some are attempting to rein in rising healthcare costs. While firing workers is an extreme response, other companies are simply passing along to smokers an extra monthly fee to cover the increased risk. Some companies pay non-smokers a small bonus with each paycheck.
The issue has caused alarm from those who feel that the anti-smoking policies are an invasion of privacy and discriminatory. Lewis Maltby, president of the National Workrights Institute, sharply criticized the company, claiming that what people do in the privacy of their own homes is their own business. The problem, however, is that as long as employers are paying for health insurance, it is their business. And while I am not necessarily advocating that employers stop paying for health insurance, the fact that they are largely responsible for paying for it today allows them some voice in the personal habits of their employees.
The really interesting debate sparked by the recent anti-smoking announcements is where the lines get drawn between discrimination, privacy rights, and prudent business decisions. Does a company have a right to address obesity within its workforce? It is an issue that has as much impact on health-related issues as smoking. Once you start thinking about the issue, the list can get pretty long about the types of activities and behaviors that could end up being monitored by employers.
I certainly do not have any brilliant answers to the questions, but on the surface I think that charging employees who smoke a monthly fee to cover the costs they incur for their employers makes perfect sense. Why should a business-owner or a fellow-employee who doesnâ€™t smoke pay for a destructive habit of a smoker in the form of increased healthcare costs? And by the way, I was a smoker for many, many years. On the larger, more far-reaching debate about discrimination and privacy rights beyond smoking, I will be watching closely to see how the debate takes shape in the coming years.
[tags]No-Smoking Policies, Corporate No-Smoking Policies, Scotts Miracle Gro, Scotts Miracle Gro Co., Corporate Policies, Human Resources, HR, HR Policies, Healthy Workers, Promoting Healthy Workplace[/tags]