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April 11, 2006 / Toby Dayton

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), it’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 doesn’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]

5 Comments

  1. K. Hamm / Apr 13 2006 9:06 am

    And it also cuts down on the amount of time people spend away from their work stations. A lot of people don’t feel that “going out for a smoke” is really a break and do it a few extra times a day in addition to their scheduled breaks. I asked one of them about it where I work and he said he thought of it in the same way as getting up to get a cup of coffee. But, of course, he was doing this in addition to getting coffee. It takes about 7 minutes to smoke a cigarette. Add talking time and getting a cup of coffee to go with the cigarette to that and it ends up costing the company a lot of lost time and productivity. Hey – does it hurt to have a few people out of the workforce doing it? Maybe not. But if we ALL got up and went out and stood around for, say, 10 minutes extra a couple of times a day…. wouldn’t that be fair to us non-smikers? Why should we have to sit and do our jobs while they get to go outside and smoke? Oh… wait… it’s a job, isn’t it?!?! 10 minutes a day for 5 days a week for 50 weeks a year times the number of smokers… 10 x 5 x 50 = 2500 minutes. Equals a little more than one work week per year (41.6 hours).

  2. Toby Dayton / Apr 14 2006 11:07 pm

    As a follow-up to this post, I was forwarded the following link to a sample company smoking policy: http://humanresources.about.com/od/policiesandsamples1/a/smoke_policy.htm

  3. George Yeo / Dec 17 2008 7:05 am

    If employees are unhappy with a company's policies, they can just quit their jobs. Just like if you are unhappy with the salary, you can just walk off. This might create a new wave where companies follow suit. Then again, implementing such measures don't come cheap. But at the end of the day, those who do quit will be thankful to their employers. To better health!

  4. George Yeo / Dec 17 2008 1:05 pm

    If employees are unhappy with a company’s policies, they can just quit their jobs. Just like if you are unhappy with the salary, you can just walk off. This might create a new wave where companies follow suit. Then again, implementing such measures don’t come cheap. But at the end of the day, those who do quit will be thankful to their employers. To better health!

  5. George Yeo / Dec 17 2008 1:05 pm

    If employees are unhappy with a company's policies, they can just quit their jobs. Just like if you are unhappy with the salary, you can just walk off. This might create a new wave where companies follow suit. Then again, implementing such measures don't come cheap. But at the end of the day, those who do quit will be thankful to their employers. To better health!

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