Whose life is it anyway? That’s what an increasing number of American workers are asking. Their bosses are replying: Whose business is this anyway?
Correspondent Morley Safer reports the issue is the way we live our lives.
More and more that cigarette, or drink at home, that political candidate you supported, even your eating habits, are coming under the scrutiny of your boss.
If he doesn’t approve, it might even cost you your job. As 60 Minutes first reported last fall, this is what happened to two Michigan women, Anita Epolito and Cara Stiffler.
Anita and Cara were considered model employees at Weyco, an insurance consulting firm outside of Lansing, Mich., both having worked at the company for years. The women sat side-by-side, sharing workloads – and after work – sharing the occasional cigarette.
But at a company benefits meeting two years ago, the company president announced, “As of January 1st, 2005, anyone that has nicotine in their body will be fired,” Anita remembers. “And we sat there in awe. And I spoke out at that time. ‘You can’t do that to us.’ And then he said, ‘Yes, I can.’ I said, ‘That’s not legal.’ And he came back with, ‘Yes, it is.'”
And it was legal: in Michigan, there’s no law that prevents a boss from firing people virtually at will. At Weyco, that meant no smoking at work, no smoking at home, no smoking period.
Weyco gave employees 15 months to quit, before subjecting them to random nicotine testing. If you fail, you’re out.
Kara says she did try to kick the habit. “I tried to quit smoking. I took advantage of their program, the smoking cessation program. But I was unsuccessful.”
Anita also says she has been trying to stop smoking. “I’m trying every way to cut down, quit. Gum. I’m trying. Yes. On my own. But I don’t need an employer to do that.”
“I pay the bills around here. So, I’m going to set the expectations,” says Howard Weyers, the boss and some would say tyrant of Weyco. “What’s important? This job? And this is a very nice place to work. Or the use of tobacco? Make a decision.”
Anita says she asked Weyers whether her 14 years of loyal service meant anything. She says he said “Sorry, Epolito, No.”
“You didn’t feel any sympathy at all for them?” Safer asked Weyers. “No, because I gave them plenty of time to make a decision. A number of their co-workers quit the habit,” he replied.
In the end, 20 employees quit smoking and four who wouldn’t were fired when they refused to take a breathalyzer test. A year later, Anita and Cara are still unemployed, still smoking and fuming.
“I am not the poster child for nicotine here. I think that smoking is a great smoke screen around the true issue here,” says Anita. “This is about privacy. This is about what you do on your own time, that is legal, that does not conflict with your job performance.”
What it is really about is money. “Big Business” is increasingly nosing into your business, trying to cut the costs of their business. And the easiest targets are smokers.
Really obese people, whose healthcare is among the costliest, are protected by federal law. But thousands of companies and countless municipal governments and police departments refuse to hire smokers, and some require affidavits, and even use lie detector tests to enforce the policy.
Bosses like Weyers will not pay for other people’s bad habits.
Says Weyers, “The biggest frustration in the workplace is the cost of healthcare. Medical plans weren’t established to pay for unhealthy lifestyles.”
Weyers admits he never really measured how much the smokers he once employed cost him and acknowledged it may not have cost him anything.
“But, I don’t know what’s going to happen five years from now with that person that’s smoking. That’s what I don’t want to wait for,” says Weyers.
Weyers wouldn’t back down, even when he learned that Anita wasn’t on his health plan.
Weyers, a former college football coach, works out five times a week and wants his employees to share his values. At Weyco, Howard rules. “I set the policy and I’m not going to bend from the policy,” says Weyers.
“But, it strikes me as a kind of intolerant attitude to the habits, foibles, eccentricities of other people,” said Safer. “Right. I would say I’m intolerable,” Weyers replied.
“Intolerable and intolerant,” Safer responded. “I am. But I just can’t be flexible on the policy,” says Weyers.
But Lewis Maltby, head of the National Workrights Institute in Princeton, N.J., calls Weyco’s smoking ban a form of “lifestyle discrimination.”
Maltby says it is perfectly legal in 20 states and in most of America a worker has virtually no rights at all. “Under the law in all but five states in America, your boss can fire you for any reason under the sun. Including who you associate with after work. Whether you’re smoking or drinking in your own home. Or a bumper sticker on your car. And you have no legal recourse.”
What about Weyers’ argument about increased healthcare costs?
“The problem is lots of things increase your healthcare costs. Smoking. Drinking. Eating junk food. Not getting enough sleep. Dangerous hobbies. Skiing, scuba diving. If you allow employers to regulate private behavior because it’s going to affect the company’s healthcare costs, we can all kiss our private lives goodbye,” says Maltby.
Maltby says Weyco is an extreme case, but examples of companies nosing into their employees’ lives abound. At the Borgata Casino, bartenders and waitresses – they call them “Borgata Babes” – can be fired if they gain more than seven percent of their bodyweight. Or penalizing workers by imposing higher health insurance premiums for activities the boss deems undesirable.
And Maltby says sometimes it’s not even health related. “There was a gentleman last fall in West Virginia who was fired because he asked an embarrassing question of a candidate at a political rally. There was a woman in Alabama who was fired for having a ‘Kerry For President’ bumper sticker on her car. They all called their lawyers. They all called the ACLU. All got the same answer. ‘You have no legal rights.'”
And then there is Ross Hopkins, who worked for an Anheuser-Busch/Budweiser beer distributor in Colorado.
“I went out on a date with my girlfriend. And we went to a country bar. And the waitress had delivered a Coors by mistake. And, you know, I just told her, ‘Well, you know, I’ll take it,'” recalls Hopkins.
But he then ran into the boss’s son-in-law, who offered to buy him a Bud. Hopkins says he politely declined and the next day at work “they’d pulled me in and told me that they were letting me go for drinking that Coors, you know, and they told me to leave.”
Hopkins says he was “very surprised” by the firing and sued the distributor for wrongful termination. Both parties refuse to discuss the final resolution.
Most companies don’t care what beer you drink – it’s how much you drink or smoke or eat.
James Ramsey, the president of the University of Louisville, says the cost of bad behavior by university staff was getting out of hand. “The Band-Aids weren’t working. The quick fixes weren’t working. We can do mail order form pharmacy. We can do all those kinds of things to control cost. But our costs are going up.”
So the university is trying another tactic. They instituted a so-called “wellness program.” If employees shape up, slim down, and fill out a questionnaire, a kind of confessional of your health, eating and sexual habits, they get a $20 monthly credit on their health insurance premiums.
Ramsey signed up himself and says he saw a dramatic improvement in his own health. “I’ve lost 30 pounds. And I don’t have to take blood pressure medicine.” And he says he has never felt better and is working out five times a week.
Part of the university’s program are coaches who essentially nag participants about their weight, eating and other lifestyle habits.
“Isn’t that going a little far in terms of the private lives of the people working for you?” Safer asked. “If I volunteer for a program, then I’m volunteering to be nagged and to be pushed. And it works,” says Ramsey.
He says it is too soon to know if the wellness program is controlling costs.
But Mark Rothstein, a bio-ethics professor at Louisville, did not sign up.
Rothstein says wellness programs may lead to better health, but questions whether people can trust in the confidentiality of the questionnaire they filled out. “People who work for employers who perhaps don’t have the best record of keeping privacy might well be concerned that the information could filter back to the company. And they could be adversely treated.”
“Not get that promotion,” says Safer. “Exactly. There’s a tremendous incentive for employers to try to weed out high -ost healthcare users. Five percent of employees represent 50 percent of healthcare costs. And if you’re an employer and can identify who these people are, you can save a lot of money to your bottom line,” says Rothstein.
Which is what this is all about. Countless companies like Quaker Oats, Johnson and Johnson, Honeywell, Motorola and IBM claim to have saved millions after instituting wellness programs. But all that good health might not necessarily make for the best workforce.
The city of North Miami, Fla., used to require that all its new police officers be non-smokers. But two years ago, the city quietly dropped the smoking ban.
“We realized that at best, we may save five percent on our insurance premium. But now we are having a problem with trying to recruit and hire highly qualified candidates. And we’re competing against agencies that did not have that policy,” says Chief of Police Gwendolyn Boyd.
Boyd says dropping the ban helped her recruiting efforts.
Officer Juan Mayato believes that the city ultimately learned that those smokers, more often than not, make pretty good cops. “I mean, what does smoking have to do with the way you perform your job out here. There’s a lot of people that smoke that are well qualified for this job and it doesn’t affect them. And, you know, they couldn’t hire them.”
That was the problem CNN faced, and after 13 years of a ban on hiring smokers, it rescinded the policy.
Even so, Lewis Maltby says it’s going to be near impossible to marshal support for smokers. “Smoking has become more than a health issue. Smoking has become a moral issue. Somehow people look at smokers and say, ‘You’re a bad person because you smoke.’ I don’t know quite how that happened. But it has.”
But Howard Weyers would even like to extend his smoking ban to spouses of his employees.
“It’s a little like, you know, the old communist Eastern Europe. Big Brother is watching you all the time,” said Safer.
“Well, maybe Big Brother should be watching because we have to eliminate that problem,” Weyers replied.
“Even if it means snooping into their private lives?’ Safer asked.
“I don’t snoop into their private lives. When they leave here, I don’t follow them,” Weyers said.
On October 19, 2005 a lawsuit against Howard Weyers and Weyco, Inc. was filed in Michigan by a former employee, Christine Ramon. Ms. Ramon was employed at Weyco as a Reporting Analyst from April 2002, until her resignation in December of 2003. She alleges in the suit that Mr. Weyers sexually harassed her over the course of her employment at Weyco and is seeking $100,000 in damages. In a statement to 60 Minutes from Mr. Weyers’ lawyer, Weyers denies the allegations and says he has instructed his lawyers to defend the claims vigorously. The statement goes on to say that the suit is a dispute between private parties and has nothing to do with Mr. Weyers’ policy on smoking.
Mich. Senate Dems rekindle the flame of labor reforms 13 May 2006, By Thomas P. Morgan Blowing smoke rings at Big Brother … Susan Shand, an American producer for ARD, said Europeans are particularly fascinated by the Weyco case. According to the World Health Organization, 34 percent of Germans smoke, compared with 23 percent of Americans. It’s also nearly unheard of to get fired from a job in Europe, Shand said, “where people still smoke at their desks.” “The whole attitude toward smoking is different,” Shand said. “So we thought this was a good example of American attitudes toward smoking.” “The idea that an American company can fire someone in the first place is shocking,” Shand said of European reaction. “But the thought that you can fire someone for smoking is doubly shocking.” “They are somewhat bewildered by it.”
Company known for ‘no smoking’ policy asks for health exams January 21, 2006 OKEMOS, Mich. A new policy at Okemos-based medical benefits administrator Weyco asks its 186 workers to voluntarily take health exams. Weyco drew attention in the past for its decision to fire workers who smoke. Now, company owner and president Howard Weyers says workers who don’t take a health exam could see monthly health premiums rise as much as 65-dollars for single coverage and 185-dollars for family coverage. Weyers says 91 percent of employees participated in a recent round of exams. In 2003, Weyco introduced its anti-smoking policy and gave employees until January First, 2005, to stop smoking or face random testing. Those who didn’t quit by the deadline no longer had jobs.
CNBC morning squak poll: should employerrs be able to fire smokers? 66% say no. Joe Kernan said, when the poll results were released, that many are writing in that these companies are a bunch of health nazies. The term “Health Nazi” is back in vogue, and the antis have no one to blame but themselves. 1/10/06
Weyco Announces Plan to Charge Employees if their Spouses Smoke December 9, 2005 By Michael Siegel Now, we are not only going to interfere with the privacy of individual’s lawful, off-the-job behavior but we are going to interfere into the personal lives of their spouses.
Whose Life Is It Anyway? Oct. 28, 2005 (CBS) What you do on your own time could land you in trouble with your employer. More businesses are cracking down on unhealthy habits, such as smoking, to cut down on health-care costs. …All were legal firings and, in fact, employers can fire workers for just about anything in 45 states.
In an interview with Morry Safer, “Weyers admits he never really measured how much the smokers he once employed cost him and acknowledged it may not have cost him anything.”
The story also quotes “Even so, Lewis Maltby says it’s going to be near impossible to marshal support for smokers. “Smoking has become more than a health issue. Smoking has become a moral issue. Somehow people look at smokers and say, ‘You’re a bad person because you smoke.’ I don’t know quite how that happened. But it has.” “
So are smokers bad people??? On one hand, Weyers fires loyal competent employees without even knowing for sure if they really cost more to employ, on the other hand, we have proof in this story, claims smokers cost more to employ, have societal costs. ….but lets see if we can find proof the smokers themselves really do have societal costs related to employment.
I have looked up data from the U.S.Department of Labor. In 1970, the average American worker took 5.4 days/ year unscheduled absences, and in 1989, 5.6 days. In 1970 the average was 6.1 bed disability days/sick worker, and in 1989, 6.5. In 1970, the average was 14.6 restricted activity days/sick worker, and in 1989 15.2.
But wait a minute… in 1970 didn’t we have twice as many workers who smoked? We most certainly did. In 1989, our public health officials gleefully announced half of all Americans who ever smoked had quit, and for the first time, there were more ex-smokers than current smokers. Any purported health benefit that quitting smoking would lead to cost savings for employers certainly didn’t show up in the U.S Dept. of Labor’s time-loss statistics.
Based on this data, if Weyers had bothered to measure how much his former smoking employees cost him, he probably would have found no excess costs. Failing to do this fairly characterizes Weyers the real “bad person” in this story.
The real eye-popper is the foot note at the end of the story that Weyers has been accused of sexual-harrassment by another former employee who was not fired for smoking….So judge for yourself….who is the real bad person here?
David W. Kuneman Assistant Midwest Regional Director The Smoker’s Club, Inc.
RE: Whose life is it anyway on 60 minutes. I sent this to 60 minutes
I saw the piece on Weyco. Timely.
A WEYCO Rep had come to see me at my office. I own a mid-size business and we have been looking for an insurance service company to provide and manage employee benefit plans for our employees.
Based on the interview with 60 minutes and their smoking policy, they have lost the contract which would have totalled millions per year in revenue for Weyco. They lose it based on their bigotry toward smokers and I will be calling the sales rep personally and giving him an earful.
Likewise, we refuse to do business with any of Weyco’s partners or other providers and I will personally be contacting them all: CuraNet, Medications Canada, Assurant Health, Sparrow, PPOMidwest, Sagamore, HAP, ProMedica, FrontPath, Detroit Medical Center, CuraNet, DenteMax, Preferred Choices, Beech Street.
Weyco’s policy is a violation of constitutional rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Smoking is not illegal. I am the owner and I am a smoker. I also drink beer and have sex in more than one position (is that against “Adolf Hitler Weyers” policy too?)
Taking a stick to smoking costs may draw legal challenges
Susanna Moon Employee Benefit News • July 2005
Howard Weyers, president of Weyco, isn’t shy about espousing his belief in controlling health care costs by promoting a healthy lifestyle. As the now-famous employer defended his policy of firing workers who smoke even outside the workplace at a recent conference, many in the audience – employers themselves – cheered his efforts.
“I want to deal with the problem so that I don’t have to pay for the results of it,” he told them.
But some fear he might be taking it too far.
The smoking ban itself, which has made national headlines, doesn’t break any existing Michigan laws where the benefit-services company is based. The problem is that Weyers took the policy a step too far by “policing” it, says Glenn Patton, an attorney at the Chicago law firm Alston & Bird.
Patton and Weyers were part of a panel discussion about employers’ rights to mandate healthy habits that took place at the Consumer-Directed Health Care Congress in May.
If you talk about a stick-and-carrot approach to promoting healthy worker behavior, “Howard’s is a baseball bat approach,” Patton says.
Weyers tests his workers to make sure they’re abiding by the no-smoking policy. But Patton says that testing workers randomly through breathalyzers, at least for alcohol, violates provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Using breathalyzers is one of eight conditions that allows the test to be considered a “medical exam” under guidance by the Equal Employment Opportunity Council. Under that definition, Patton says medical exams can be administered only if they’re job-related and “consistent with a business necessity.”
The EEOC agrees. “An employer might be hard-pressed to show that a breathalyzer test that tests for nicotine usage is, in fact, job-related and consistent with business necessity,” says Jeanne Goldberg, senior attorney adviser at the EEOC Office of Legal Counsel.
Chris Kuczinski, assistant legal counsel on ADA policy division at the EEOC, elaborates: “Employees must prove that the worker is unable to do their job or poses a direct threat due to medical condition. But even if you consider it a medical condition, can you say it affects their ability to do their job or poses a direct threat due to medical condition? I think the answer is no.”
Weyers has countered that “businesses have the right to protect themselves from the horrendous damage smokers inflict upon themselves and others.” He cites figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the costs of smoking-related illnesses: some $75.5 billion in medical expenses and $81.9 billion in lost productivity.
“Weyco’s mission is to help businesses improve employee health and cut costs with innovative benefit plans,” Weyers states on his company’s Web site. More important, he says, tobacco-related illnesses cost Michigan alone 16,000 lives per year. According to the CDC, smoking is one of three habits responsible for almost a third of all U.S. deaths, or about 800,000 deaths.
Weyers declined to talk to Employee Benefit News for this story, but David Houston, partner at Dickinson Wright and counsel to Weyco, maintains that the smoking ban and its related testing doesn’t break any laws. “We’ve looked at this extensively.”
Houston disputes the EEOC’s interpretations of the ADA. He says Weyco’s one-time testing in early January can’t be considered a medical exam and says the testing wasn’t random because workers had advance notice and everyone was required to participate.
Four employees resigned because they refused to undergo testing for cigarette smoking, according to Houston. If they hadn’t resigned, they would have been fired, he says.
“All of the EEOC’s arguments are based on the assumption that smoking is a disability,” Houston says. “Every court that has considered those issues has decided that neither nicotine addiction nor smoking is protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act,” Houston says.
Not true, the EEOC says. “You can violate provisions of the ADA that limits medical exams without classifying it as a disability,” the EEOC’s Kuczinski says.
You can’t test a worker when there’s no evidence the person is violating a policy, he says. “You’re just simply picking people out to see if they could be smoking.”
Testing is allowed in certain circumstances, such as when an employee has had a past problem with alcohol that can be tied to possible safety violations. For example, if a bus driver has been in alcohol rehabilitation, employers can test the individual to protect the health and lives put at risk by possible abuse, Kuczinski says. “It’s got be reasonable, and if there’s no risk anymore, it’s got to end.”
Drug testing is allowed and doesn’t constitute a medical exam under the EEOC guidance, Kuczinski says.
Even if Weyers were to use a more carrot-like approach by offering programs to live healthier lifestyles, the wellness programs must be voluntary, he says. “It has to reflect a real choice.”
The ADA was passed, he says, to try to keep employers from using medical information to discriminate against employees with disabilities. Lawmakers found “if that information was gathered, it would be used to their detriment – not to their benefit,” he says.
“Evaluate employees based on actual job performance first, and don’t try to make issues medical issues,” Kuczinski says. “Deal with the performance problems.”
Houston counters that employers can hire or fire anyone they like, as long as it’s not discriminatory. “That’s a business judgment,” he says.
“I have listened to every objection, and I don’t believe that one of them or any of them is based on law as it’s been interpreted or on law as it will be interpreted.” – S.M.
It’s nice to hear Americans talk about privacy and fighting for their rights. But sometimes I have to say: Do you know what you’re talking about?
In Okemos, Mich., a 71-year-old health nut named Howard Weyers runs a health-care benefits company called Weyco. Weyers thinks his employees should be healthy, too, so years ago, he hired an in-house private trainer. Any employee who works with her and then meets certain exercise goals earns a $110 bonus per month.
So far, so good. But then, in November 2003, Weyers made an announcement that shocked his staff: “I’m introducing a smoking policy,” he said.
“You’re not going to smoke if you work here. Period.”
No smoking at work. No smoking at home. No nicotine patch or nicotine gum. The company would do random tests and fire anyone with nicotine in his system.
“Two hundred people in a room,” Weyers recalls, “and they went at me.”
“I yelled out,” said Anita Epolito, “‘You can’t do that to me, it’s against the law.'”
That’s not true. In Michigan and 19 other states, employers have the legal right to fire anyone, as long as they don’t violate discrimination laws (for age, gender, race, religion, disabilities, etc.).
Weyers gave his employees 15 months to quit smoking, and he offered assistance to help.
Today, he calls the policy a success. Twenty Weyco employees who smoked, stopped. Some of their spouses even quit.
But the four workers who didn’t quit were fired, and they are furious.
“I’m just thrown out because this person decided, one day, this is what he wanted to do,” said Epolito.
Virg Bernero, a Michigan state senator, wants to make such firings illegal. He helped publicize the fired Weyco workers’ complaint — in the process publicizing himself; he’s expected to run for mayor of Lansing this year — and now he’s introduced a bill to prohibit employers from firing anyone for anything legal they do at home.
“What’s it going to be tomorrow? That you[‘ve] got to lose a certain number of pounds . . . in order to keep your job?” Just as the law restricts discrimination on the basis of race or sex, he said, “we’ll have an amendment for legal activities, for privacy outside the workplace. Because this goes too far.”
Bernero’s thinking is muddled. I think whether you smoke, get fat or go skydiving should be your choice. I say “Give Me a Break” to busybody politicians in New York and California who’ve banned smoking in every bar and restaurant. But there’s a big difference between government banning things . . . and Howard Weyers doing it. We have only one government. When government bans something, it bans it for everybody in its jurisdiction. That’s why the Bill of Rights limits government power. But Weyco is just one company. Its employees have other choices. There are other jobs available in Michigan.
Cara Stiffler has already found a “better” job but still told me it should have been illegal for Weyers to fire her. “I want my children to see that I stood up for my rights as an American. That’s what . . . the men are over fighting in Iraq for, is my freedom.”
Give Me a Break. Freedom includes the right to quit your job, but freedom also includes the right not to employ someone you don’t want to employ. No one forced Stiffler and Epolito to work for Weyco. But now, they want to force Howard Weyers to employ smokers. He built the company. He owns the company. What about his freedom?
I asked Epolito if she “owned her job.” No, she said, but “there’s a relationship there.”
There was a relationship, that’s true. To put it simply, the relationship was that Weyers thought employing Epolito was a good thing and Epolito thought working for Weyco was a good thing. Weyers doesn’t own Epolito; she’s entitled to pursue her happiness, not his, and if that means smoking, that’s her right. But Epolito doesn’t own Weyers; he’s entitled to live by his values, not hers, and if that means not employing smokers, that’s his right. Government smoking bans take away our freedom. But all Weyers did was exercise his.
John Stossel Apr. 8, 2005 – If you don’t like your job, you can quit. Does it work the other way? Can my boss quit me if he doesn’t like, say, something I do at home? An employer in Michigan has done that, and it’s making lots of people say Give Me a Break.
Howard Weyers runs WEYCO, a health-care benefits company in Okemos, Mich., and he’s a health nut.
He’s 71 years old, but still lifts heavy weights. One day, he decided his employees should be healthy too. First, he hired an in-house private trainer. Any employee who goes to see her and then meets certain exercise goals can earn a $110 bonus per month.
Mindy Tiraboschi, one of his employees, thinks it’s great. “He wants to help us be as healthy as we can,” she said.
“I want to be a good influence on my employees. What’s wrong with being healthy?” Weyers said.
Two years ago, he went further after concluding that smokers run up higher medical costs and are less healthy in general. He introduced a smoking policy, telling his employees, “You’re not going to smoke if you work here. Period.”
He was not just talking about smoking at work, but smoking anywhere — even at home. He would do random tests and fire anyone with nicotine in their blood.
Anita Epolito and some other workers were furious that day when Weyers told them, you have 15 months to stop smoking. “No patch, no gum, you had to either been completely you know, just healed from tobacco, or you’re not working at Weyco,” she said.
Weyers said he took a lot of flak from his workers when he announced the policy. “I just let them attack me. I had 200 people in a room and they went at me,” he said.
Epolito was one of the people who let him have it. “Immediately, when he said it, I yelled out in the meeting, you can’t do that to me, it’s against the law,” she said.
But Weyers’ company is located in one of 20 states that allow employers to fire anyone as long as they don’t violate discrimination laws for things like age, gender, race or disabilities. Of the 24 Weyco employees who smoked, most stopped.
Weyers was pleased with the results. “Twenty out of 24 broke the habit. At least three spouses that we know of quit with the employee. So it was very successful,” he said.
Some employees, like Chris Boyd, are grateful that Weyers pressured them to quit.
“I’m glad I did. It was the best thing I could have ever done,” Boyd said.
But the four employees who didn’t quit were fired, and they are angry that Weyers put their jobs on the line.
Epolito was among the four who lost their jobs. “I did my job, an excellent job for this man, and he became a god in his own mind. And that’s wrong, that’s wrong,” she said. Weyers says he’s not playing God; he’s just helping people become healthy. He even put a scale in front of the cafeteria vending machine, and he stocked that with alternatives to junk food. He also pays for weight management programs, nutrition counseling and diabetic training.
His critics say, so what!
The Drug Policy Alliance compares Weyers’ policy to totalitarianism. They say a company has no right to fire you for what you do on your own time.
So you’d think I’d say “Give Me a Break” to Weyco. After all, Weyers is prohibiting his employees from ever smoking — even when they aren’t on the job. And I’ve said Give Me a Break before to politicians who’ve outlawed smoking in restaurants and bars.
But there’s a difference between government smoking bans and Howard Weyers setting one. We only have one government. When government bans something, it bans it for everybody, and government can use force. It’s why the Bill of Rights restricts government power. But Weyco is just one company. No one has to work here.
Boyd agrees. “This is Howard’s company. If you don’t agree with it, that’s fine. Don’t work here,” he said.
Those who don’t want to work for this health nut, who built this company, have lots of other choices.
I looked through area classified ads, and saw lots of job listings.
But Weyers’ employees seem to believe that after working hard for Weyers for years, they’re entitled to their jobs.
Michigan State Sen. Virg Bernero (D) said he will “solve” the problem. He’ll make what Weyers did illegal.
On Wednesday, he’ll introduce a bill that would prohibit employers from firing anyone for legal behavior they do at home.
“Today, it’s smoking, what’s it going to be tomorrow? That you got to lose a certain number of pounds in order to keep your job?” he asked.
But there are lots of employers that might hire the smokers who lost their jobs at Weyco. Why can’t one employer say, “I don’t want smokers working here.”
“We have decided as a society that you can’t discriminate on race, on gender, you know, pregnant women,” Bernero said.
But are we going to amend discrimination laws to include smokers?
Bernero is fine with that. “Hopefully, we’ll have an amendment for legal activities, for privacy outside the workplace. Because this goes too far,” he said.
But Weyers built the company, doesn’t he have rights?
Epolito is now collecting unemployment. Cara Stiffler, another of the dismissed employees, is working as a file clerk.
She’s happy with her new job.
So why is she angry at Weyers? “I had to give up my health insurance for my children, but I want my children to see that I stood up for my rights as an American, that’s what the men are over fighting in Iraq for, is my freedom,” she said.
January 3, 2005 By Kris Maher The Wall Street Journal
Kick the habit — or don’t bother applying for the job.
That is the dictum at a growing number of companies that are adopting tough measures to eliminate smokers from their ranks in an effort to rein in health-care costs. Some are requiring job applicants to undergo nicotine testing or respond to questions about their smoking habits. Others are forcing current employees who won’t quit smoking to give up their jobs.
Beginning Saturday, Weyco Inc., a small medical-benefits administrator, stopped employing people who smoke at its Okemos, Mich., headquarters. Only nonsmokers will be considered for new openings, and former employees who are smokers and refuse to quit had to leave.
Gary Climes, chief financial officer of Weyco, said the company notified its 200 employees about the new policy in the fall of 2003, and set up a smoking-cessation program to help smokers quit. “We’ve tried to counsel people to quit and stay, but there are some that are still trying to make those decisions,” he said before the deadline.
Such antismoking policies are problematic for companies with employees in states with smokers’ rights laws. Twenty-nine states, including Illinois, have laws that prohibit employers from discriminating against smokers. As a result, Weyco will continue to employ one smoker in Illinois, even after its policy in Michigan goes into effect, Climes said. ::: Advertisement :::
Nevertheless, smokers increasingly face hiring hurdles even at companies that don’t have formal antismoking policies. “There is discrimination at many companies–and maybe even most companies–against people who smoke,” said Jay Whitehead, publisher of HRO Today, a magazine for human-resources executives.
Hiring managers who are instructed by their companies not to directly ask applicants about smoking (for fear of violating privacy rights) often discern smokers during interviews and reject them. Just because a question about smoking isn’t asked directly “doesn’t mean that hiring managers turn off their sense of smell,” Whitehead said.
Investors Property Management Inc. in Seattle, began asking job applicants two years ago whether they smoked in an effort to eliminate candidates with the habit. Now, Dieter Benz, vice president of operations for the multifamily and commercial-property management company, said he is considering requiring applicants to undergo a blood test to prove they aren’t smokers. “Even though all of our marketing materials indicate that we do not hire smokers, we still get people that are trying to slip in under the radar,” he said.
Earlier this month, Benz fired a staffer after a burn hole in the upholstery of a company truck tipped him off that the individual was smoking, at least occasionally.
The company pays the complete cost of health-insurance premiums for its 14 employees. “In exchange for that you can’t smoke,” Benz said. The company makes one exception — for a bookkeeper who has been employed since before the strict hiring policy took effect.
Some companies that employ smokers simply are charging them more for health-care coverage. And lying about one’s habit can result in loss of health-care coverage or termination, said Richard A. Chaifetz, chairman and chief executive of ComPsych Corp., a Chicago employee-assistance and wellness provider.
Navistar International Corp., a Warrenville, Ill., truck manufacturer, will charge employees who smoke $50 per month more for their health-care coverage beginning in July.
Privacy-rights advocates and many smokers say companies are going too far in punishing employees for engaging in a legal activity. “It’s crazy, because if you smoke in one context you’re fine and in another you’re not,” said Dave Pickrell, founder of Smokers Fighting Discrimination, a nonprofit in Katy, Texas.
Fire Someone For Smoking? This morning on CNN Jack Cafferty was a bit exercised over reports that more and more companies are not only refusing to hire smokers, they’re firing them. They’re getting fired not for smoking on the job .. but for just being smokers. http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1327970/posts
The right to refuse any person from entering your home. You can do that for any reason or no reason. You may hate smoke yet allow smokers in your house. You may love smoke yet not allow smokers in your house. Even irrationality does not keep you from exercising your property rights.
You own a business, it is your property. If you want to hire employees they have to agree to your terms and you agree to theirs. It’s called free association. Either one is free to walk away and not associate. Both the employer and employee must agree to associate before employment can begin. No person is held captive. Free association is also the freedom to not associate. The employee is free to quit the job — for any reason or no reason. The employer is free to fire an employee for any reason or no reason.
So, if this is true, how can the governments go into private business’s and make them go smoke free?
It’s called bad law. Bogus law. Fraud.
How did individuals and society increasingly proper last year, last decade, and for several generations prior to this years new laws and the new laws of the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s and most laws created for a hundred years prior? Parasitical politicians and bureaucrats create boogieman problems — non-problems.– in order to proclaim they are solving problems. They do that to usurp power and garner unearned paychecks. Politicians and bureaucrats are the problem — people at liberty wielding science and business are the solution.
Property rights and free association. Property owners may ban smokers or permit smokers on their property. That government and many people on these threads don’t believe in property rights is obvious. Many people defend property rights when it suits their needs but turn around and argue against property rights when it suits their needs. Unfortunately, most people don’t understand that the issue is property rights and free association so they argue almost everything but The Point.
The Point: protect and defend property rights and free association.
January 26, 2005 Over the last quarter-century, smokers have become pariahs.
Once they could smoke at their desks, anywhere in restaurants, in stores. Nowadays, smokers may not light up in the workplace, in many public places and even many businesses that have declared themselves smoke-free.
That’s not a bad trend.
As a result, non-smokers are protected from toxic secondhand smoke, and smokers who must huddle outside in blizzard conditions to light up are given more incentive to quit the habit.
But the crusade to get smokers to quit — and, by extension, reduce health-care costs — has taken a new, repressive turn, one that may keep some attorneys busy.
Both Kalamazoo Valley Community College and a health benefits administration company in Okemos have tied employment strings to whether a worker smokes or not.
As of Jan. 1, KVCC will no longer hire tobacco users for full-time jobs. Those smokers who already hold full-time jobs at KVCC are exempt from the new policy.
Weyco Inc., a health benefits administrator in Okemos, has adopted an even more draconian policy: Those who smoke will get fired — and not just those who smoke at work. Those who smoke at home, on their own time, can expect dismissal. Employees are required to take a screening text to determine whether they are using tobacco. One smoking employee quit over the policy; four others were fired for refusing to take the smoking test.
The argument is that health-care costs for tobacco-related illnesses are more than $75 billion a year nationally. Add to that the $80 billion in lost productivity caused by smoking, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, and it’s not hard to see why employers would rather have a non-smoking workforce.
Health care insurers would much rather cover a group of employees who don’t smoke than smokers who eventually require more health care.
And while federal and state laws prohibit employers from discriminating against people because of race, religion, gender and even weight, no one sees smoking as a civil right, although it is perfectly legal.
We could understand measures to not hire, not promote or to fire employees if they were engaged in illegal acts, such as taking drugs; or if legal acts, such as drinking alcohol, were impairing employees’ ability to do their jobs.
But if employees are not smoking in the workplace and smoking is not impairing their performance, employers shouldn’t make smoking a barrier to employment.
That’s not to say that employers shouldn’t take other steps to encourage employees to kick the habit. And smoking cessation classes should be available to workers to help them.
Perhaps smokers should be asked by their employers to pay a higher share of their health insurance premiums.
But as long as we’re focusing on behavior that leads to costly health problems, fast-food aficionados, barflies and couch potatoes should be asked to pony up more as well.
Reading Tuesday’s paper, I saw buried in the Page 5A Nation Roundup an item that should strike fear into the very soul of an employee. “Four smokers fired for refusing smoking test” is a scary little fascist idea creeping around and should be brought to the courts’ attention. The gist is that the company involved has a no-smoking policy, no smoking by an employee even when not on the company dime.
As a wage slave and smoker, I find this idea very troubling. In matters of dress, conduct, performance of duties and work scheduling, I agree to these ideas while the company purchases my time or skills. While on the clock it is not my time but the company’s time, and while they have purchased it, they are free to use it as necessary. I thought that was how it works, but apparently not any more. I guess once any of an individual’s time is sold to a company, all of that person’s time is now the company’s to control. Politics, religion, diet, and any other aspects of what used to be your personal life are now subject to company policy. Does anyone else have a problem with this?
It is smoking today — that hot topic — that is everyone’s favorite whipping boy, so that makes it OK. The justification being that it is an attempt to shield the company from high health-care costs. What is next? Religious hospitals firing members of other religions, using the justification that “We can only afford to support one god”? How does this grab people? Imagine a company policy stating that all employees are required to vote and vote for candidate “A.” Sounds scary, does it not? This corporate interference cannot be allowed to stand.
Workers fume as firms ban smoking at home Mich. firms prohibit cigarette use, even off the job, angering privacy advocates. http://www.detnews.com/
US staff sacked over smoking ban January 27, 2005 Four workers in the United States have been sacked after refusing to take a test to determine if they were smokers. http://news.bbc.co.uk/
Heat Rises Over ‘No Smokers Hired’ Policy Lawyers debate if ban, nicotine tests are legal http://www.law.com/
Alliance Criticizes Policies That Fire Smokers January 28, 2005 The Drug Policy Alliance has publicly criticized Michigan-based health insurance company, Weyco Inc for firing four employees for smoking cigarettes — either at work or in the privacy of their homes. The Alliance has been speaking out on radio programs across the country about the risks associated with such guidelines, which far outweigh the good intentions. The Alliance and other critics find the policy flawed for several reasons — one of which is that it makes no distinction between those who smoke addictively and those who have the occasional cigarette. But the bottom line is that it’s wrong to fire people who choose to do something in their time away from the workplace as long as it doesn’t impact job performance or put their coworkers in harms way. http://www.drugpolicy.org/news/012805smoking.cfm
January 28, 2005The Drug Policy Alliance has publicly criticized Michigan-based health insurance company, Weyco Inc for firing four employees for smoking cigarettes — either at work or in the privacy of their homes. The Alliance has been speaking out on radio programs across the country about the risks associated with such guidelines, which far outweigh the good intentions. The Alliance and other critics find the policy flawed for several reasons — one of which is that it makes no distinction between those who smoke addictively and those who have the occasional cigarette. But the bottom line is that it’s wrong to fire people who choose to do something in their time away from the workplace as long as it doesn’t impact job performance or put their coworkers in harms way.
No Work For Addicts January 31, 2005 By Terry Gray Twenty one states do not have lifestyle laws. Lifestyle laws protect individuals in the workforce from being discriminated against for how they live. Smoking is included in lifestyle laws in 29 states and forbids discriminatory hiring and firing practices against smokers. http://www.jeffersonreview.com/articles/2005/013105/gray.htm
Health Care Company That Fired Smokers Also Targeting Fat Weyers Won’t Fire Employees For Obesity
January 27, 2005
A Michigan health care company that fired four employees for smoking is also targeting fat.
Howard Weyers, the founder of Weyco Inc., said he wants to tell fat workers to lose weight or else, Reuters reported.
Weyers brought in weight experts to speak with employees, according to Reuters. The company also offers employees a $35 monthly incentive for joining a health club and $65 for meeting fitness goals.
But the company isn’t planning to fire employees for unhealthy lifestyle choices, according to a Weyco news release.
“Anyone concerned about limiting employers’ rights to specify terms of employment should know that federal law protects people with conditions like obesity, alcoholism and AIDS. But there’s no right to indulge in tobacco,” the news release said.
Four Weyco employees were fired after the company enacted a new policy this month, allowing workers to be fired if they smoke, even if the smoking takes place after hours or at home.
The four employees were fired for refusing to take a test to determine whether they smoke. Weyers said the company doesn’t want to pay the higher health care costs associated with smoking.
An official of the company — which administers health benefits — estimated that 18 to 20 of its 200 employees were smokers when the policy was first announced in 2003. As many as 14 of them quit smoking before the policy went into effect.
Employer on Good Footing with Smoking Ban, Experts Say February 3, 2005 Michigan smokers can fume all they want, but there’s no law preventing employers from refusing to hire them or even firing them if they refuse to quit. http://hr.blr.com/Article.cfm/Nav/188.8.131.52.32065
WEYCO News Release:
Background on WEYCO INC’s Tobacco-Free Policy January 25, 2005
WEYCO, Inc., established a policy promoting healthier lifestyles through its lifestyles Challenge Program about five years ago. The goal of this program is to encourage employees to become healthier, and to increase their ability to accomplish more both personally and professionally.
The tobacco-free policy has been an ongoing program — and part of the Lifestyle Challenge Program at WEYCO, Inc. — since fall 2003. We have assisted our employees through a series of communication and support activities, including: employee meetings introducing the program; smoking-cessation classes, medication, and appointments with acupuncturists. The policy has been implemented in gradual stages to encourage staff members who use tobacco products to become healthier and remain WEYCO, Inc., employees.
WEYCO, Inc., is in business to help other companies improve employee health and save money through innovative benefit plans. The health plans we create offer hundreds of options—and our approach to tobacco use may not be for everybody—but it’s natural for us to take a leadership position on this issue. We encourage every employer to take a hard look at managing health costs related to smoking and other tobacco use.
There is no longer any question about the devastating effects of tobacco use on our society, or why it must be eliminated. Tobacco is a major killer and drain on health-care resources.
Michigan’s smoking-related health-care costs amount to $2.65 billion a year.
Lost employee productivity due to smoking totals another $3.4 billion.
Every Michigan household pays $557 in taxes for smoking-related illnesses annually.
Each smoker costs his employer more than $4,000 a year in absenteeism, medical benefits, and earnings lost to sickness or premature death, etc.
Smoking kills 4.9 million people worldwide each year.
In Michigan, the smoking death toll is 16,000 a year—more than alcohol, AIDS, car crashes, illegal drugs, murders, and suicides combined.
So far, our tobacco-free employee policy appears to be a resounding success. Of the 15 to 20 employees who used tobacco before the policy was announced, about a dozen have decided to stop using tobacco. Many have thanked us for initiating the program. Only three have opted-out of the program and decided to seek employment elsewhere.
Any private Michigan business organization has the right to protect itself from the enormous financial damage that tobacco users inflict upon society by destroying their own health.
At WEYCO, Inc., we are taking a leadership role in changing employee behavior to save lives, improve health, and reduce demand on the health-care system.
WEYCO, Inc., encourages healthy lifestyles. We created and use walking trails on our campus, and have a full-time lifestyle coach to implement our wellness program. We sponsor voluntary on-site programs for employees to attend during the workday on topics such as eating disorders, healthy meal planning, safety, and others.
Howard Weyers, President or Gary Climes, Chief Financial Officer WEYCO, Inc. 517-349-7010
Joanne Eason, APR Stony Point Communications 517-347-9040/517-285-0489 (cell)
The Stepford employees
February 6, 2005 By Bob Barr
In last year’s remake of the 1970s classic science fiction file, “The Stepford Wives,” a group of techno-weirdos set out to transform imperfect women into perfect wives. Of course, the plan fails because of… well, a lot of reasons. But the point is, the world remains as full of weirdos today seeking to create the perfect person as when Pygmalion tried many centuries ago. Now, the “Stepford Search” has come to corporate America. Weyco Inc., a Michigan company, has decided to fire any employee who smokes. Not just any employee who smokes on the job. Any employee who smokes anywhere, anytime, anyhow. Why? To help the employees make healthful life choices and become better persons; to help the employees “manage their health care.” How does the company ensure its employees remain truly and permanently “smoke free?” Mandatory “drug” tests. If traces of the “devil weed” tobacco are found, the hapless employee who thought he or she lived in a free country — one in which a citizen could practice such horrible habits as lighting up a cigarette or cigar in the “privacy” of his or her home — is summarily fired. In the 1950s and 1960s, the decades of my misspent youth, we harbored the illusion such menaces as nuclear war or communist invasion were the real enemies of freedom. How wrong we were. The good folks running America just four or five decades later, including the Weyco Gestapo, know the real enemy of man is not the trivial nuclear holocaust, but smoking. And they will leave no freedom unturned in their zeal to root it out wherever it might still lurk. Of course, the absurd lengths to which Weyco Inc. is going to attack a problem that clearly is none of its business, is exceeded only by the fact this “corporation” is allowed — at least thus far — to carry out its crusa