Employment: MA Northborough Employment Rights

Massachusetts Northborough Update…

Northborough municipal u nion deal blows off smokers
5/7/12
NORTHBOROUGH — It’s a familiar work scene: a group of faithful smokers, huddled in ever-more-distant locations outside the office, in weather fair or foul, talking about the trials and travails of their day between well-savored drags.
Not in Northborough.
An extremely rare clause built into the contract of the town’s municipal u nion back in 1994 bars u nion employees hired after that date from smoking, not just at work, but in their personal lives as well.
“It’s certainly positive from my point of view,” said Board of Health Director Jamie Terry, who, along with others in town, isn’t really sure exactly why it was enacted in the first place but said it hasn’t been disruptive.
D.J. Wilson, tobacco control director for the Massachusetts Municipal Association, said he hasn’t come across another municipality in the state that bans smoking, and doubted any town in New England has a similar provision.
All police and firefighters are banned from smoking by a law that came into effect in 1988, he said, so perhaps the town thought it would be progressive in 1994 when it decided to extend the provision to municipal employees.
The town may have also been thinking it would save on health insurance, he said, although data showing whether the town has saved money as a result of the requirement doesn’t seem to exist.
“It’s really one of these very odd things where it’s been good for them,” he said, but not too useful as a measuring stick for other communities.
Town Administrator John Coderre said the requirement was likely negotiated for two reasons: first, because it promotes health among employees, and second, for the savings in health insurance.
Although the restriction only affects those in the u nion — not the School Department or town department heads, for example — he said he can’t think of a single department head who smokes.
“Peer pressure is a good thing,” said Debbie Bent, an administrative assistant for the Fire Department who said it’s refreshing to work in a town where virtually nobody smokes.
“It clings to your clothing, and your whole office smells,” she said. “This creates a much more pleasant environment.”
Bent served as vice president of the town u nion for years, and said no one has ever really made a stink about the requirement that she can recall.
“When it was negotiated, the people who smoked were grandfathered, so anybody new came on knowing that’s what the rules were,” she said.
It’s a familiar work scene: a group of faithful smokers, huddled in ever-more-distant locations outside the office, in weather fair or foul, talking about the trials and travails of their day between well-savored drags.
Not in Northborough.
An extremely rare clause built into the contract of the town’s municipal u nion back in 1994 bars u nion employees hired after that date from smoking, not just at work, but in their personal lives as well.
“It’s certainly positive from my point of view,” said Board of Health Director Jamie Terry, who, along with others in town, isn’t really sure exactly why it was enacted in the first place but said it hasn’t been disruptive.
D.J. Wilson, tobacco control director for the Massachusetts Municipal Association, said he hasn’t come across another municipality in the state that bans smoking, and doubted any town in New England has a similar provision.
All police and firefighters are banned from smoking by a law that came into effect in 1988, he said, so perhaps the town thought it would be progressive in 1994 when it decided to extend the provision to municipal employees.
The town may have also been thinking it would save on health insurance, he said, although data showing whether the town has saved money as a result of the requirement doesn’t seem to exist.
“It’s really one of these very odd things where it’s been good for them,” he said, but not too useful as a measuring stick for other communities.
Town Administrator John Coderre said the requirement was likely negotiated for two reasons: first, because it promotes health among employees, and second, for the savings in health insurance.
Although the restriction only affects those in the u nion — not the School Department or town department heads, for example — he said he can’t think of a single department head who smokes.
“Peer pressure is a good thing,” said Debbie Bent, an administrative assistant for the Fire Department who said it’s refreshing to work in a town where virtually nobody smokes.
“It clings to your clothing, and your whole office smells,” she said. “This creates a much more pleasant environment.”
Bent served as vice president of the town u nion for years, and said no one has ever really made a stink about the requirement that she can recall.
“When it was negotiated, the people who smoked were grandfathered, so anybody new came on knowing that’s what the rules were,” she said.
An email poll of assorted town administrators and health agents in MetroWest found no other communities in the area considering a switch to tobacco-free requirements anytime soon.
Wilson said that likely means Northborough has the most smoke-free municipal work force in the region, and is among the most smoke-free workplaces in the country.
The town’s policy, although rare, is not without precedent. In 1995, the Florida Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the city of North Miami’s practice of not hiring smokers, and in 2008 the county of Sarasota, Fla., enacted a policy of not hiring employees who had smoked within a year of their application.
In the private sector, some businesses charge a hefty surcharge for smokers to defray health care costs. According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control, employees who smoke cost employers an average of $3,400 per year because of health insurance cost increases, decreased productivity from smoke breaks and time missed due to smoking-related illnesses.
Bonnie Biocchi, MetroWest Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, said she hasn’t heard of members refusing to hire smokers, but many are focusing on what they can do for preventative care to reduce costs.
“Certainly the cost of health care is a major concern for employers,” she said. “I think as people become more and more aware of the cost involved with smoking and health, that will be increasingly a question that’s considered.”
Bent said she believes Northborough’s smoking restriction has led to town employees leading healthier, more productive lives, and says that when members of the public walk into town buildings reeking of smoke, people notice.
“It’s (unpleasant), like a person who wears too much perfume,” she said. “After they leave, I usually spray Lysol.”

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