County does about face, scraping nicotine fees
March 3, 2015
By Patrick McNamara
At least three Pima County supervisors appear to have had buyers? remorse over their just-approved policy imposing insurance surcharges on employees who use tobacco.
Supervisors Sharon Bronson, Richard Elías and Ally Miller all reversed their votes on the policy when the matter came back before the board Tuesday.
The policy, placed on the agenda for clarification of the Feb. 17 vote, included waiving the 30 percent insurance surcharge for employees who participate in tobacco use cessation classes.
The question was whether employees had to take the classes on their own time or do so while on the clock.
“It was my intent that it would be mandatory and on county time,” Supervisor Ramon Valadez said.
Deputy County Attorney Thomas Weaver told supervisors if attendance in the classes was part of an employee?s job description they would have to be paid to attend.
But since attendance – and avoiding the insurance surcharge – was optional, not mandatory, they would have to attend on their own time.
Elías asked that the item be revisited for a second vote Tuesday.
“I?ve come to the conclusion that Supervisor (Ray) Carroll was correct in his no vote on this entire policy,” Elías said.
Carroll cast the only dissenting vote on the policy last month.
Valadez was the only vote on Tuesday to keep the recently adopted policy in place, saying the two-thirds of non-smoker employees subsidize the health-care expenses of the one-third who do smoke.
County officials estimate that the health-care costs of employees who use tobacco could be as much as $9 million per year.
Smokers Beware, No Jobs for You
Currently, an Arizona county is contemplating no longer hiring smokers. This has become a nationwide trend among employers. This is not just no smoking while working or on work property, this extends to no smoking anywhere, anytime, even your own home on your own time. Is this constitutional? Is this discrimination? Apparently not. Discrimination is only defined by if someone is not hired or is fired because of sex, religion, disability, race, national origin or age. The Constitution and The Bill of Rights do not limit the authority of the private workplace.
The Arizona county reasoning for not hiring smokers is because of healthcare costs. Smokers? healthcare tend to cost more per year than non smokers. But is that a valid reason not to hire someone? What will this lead to next? Obese and overweight people, people with diabetes, people with chronic illnesses or people on medication for life not being hired? Where will they draw the line to cut healthcare costs?
How can your place of employment dictate what you do on your free time? How can they assume that you will cost them more in healthcare just because you smoke? What does that have to do with you as a worker? The “employment at-will” doctrine gives the employer the right to fire an employee at any time for any reason, or no reason at all. An example of this “at-will? doctrine was that a woman from Indiana was fired from her job because she smoked at her home, even though she did not smoke on the job.
Potential employees with be given a urine test (like a drug screen) to test for nicotine to see if the candidate is a smoker. There is a flaw in this test though. It screens for nicotine, but not all people who have nicotine in their system are smokers. Nicotine might be detected because of patches (used to quit smoking) and vapor less e-cigarettes (which help quit smoking). Nicotine is not what causes all the diseases and issues associated with smoking, the smoke itself from cigarettes is what causes them. Yet, if you test positive for whatever reason, you are not hirable, even if you are using a nicotine step-down treatment to quit smoking.
The American Civil Liberties Union terms this as “lifestyle discrimination”. Employers have been lifestyle discriminating for years for many reasons. Some discriminatebecause of weight, drinking, and even because of extracurricular activities like sky diving! This has been going on for years. The ACLU believes the only way to stop this type of discrimination is through state and federal legislation. This country has long been thought of as a place where everyone has individual rights, and that?s true, unless it has to do with the American worker having rights. It is time to stop discrimination in all forms for all people.
Arizona county mulling policy that would ban it from hiring smokers
Rule would also include insurance surcharges and possible nicotine tests
December 6, 2014
By Victor Morton – The Washington Times
The spirit of Michael Bloomberg is extending beyond New York, as a major Arizona county is considering a ban on hiring smokers as municipal employees and imposing a surcharge on the health insurance of tobacco users already on the payroll.
The Pima County Board of Supervisors will vote Dec. 16 on the plan, which also would give the county the right to demand nicotine tests of employees if county officials suspect they?re secretly puffing or dipping, whether at home or work, the Arizona Daily Star reported Friday.
“It?s not an attempt to punish anybody,” Human Resources Director Allyn Bulzomi told the Daily Star. “It?s an attempt to encourage people to be healthy.”
In order to be hired by the county, which contains Tucson and the University of Arizona, prospective employees would have to provide a doctor?s note certifying them as having been tobacco-free for at least one year or take a drug test to prove same.
In addition, current employees who sign a legal affidavit declaring themselves non-smokers get a $5 health-care discount per biweekly pay period while tobacco users must pay an extra 30 percent fee on top of their existing health-care costs.
County officials say the expect the policy to reap about $1 million in annual savings.
“Our taxpayers pay for our health insurance because we are self-insured,” County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry told the Daily Star. “Anything we can do to reduce the cost is beneficial.”
While Mr. Bulzomi said the county will not impose random nicotine tests, if a supervisor has specific reason to suspect an employee who says he is tobacco-free is not, a mandatory test could happen.
“We?re going to use reasonable suspicion,” he said. “If there is reasonable suspicion we will have a conversation and probably use a test.”
The proposal has led to criticism from some public-health officials who call it discrimination and Nanny-Statism.
“It is a form of employment discrimination,” Dr. Michael Siegel, a public health professor at Boston University, told the Daily Star. “Discrimination is essentially making employment decisions based on a group to which someone belongs rather than their qualifications for the job.”
Arizona is one of 21 states that do not have laws declaring smokers to be a protected class under discrimination laws, meaning the Pima County code is fine by the state.
Dr. Siegel, whom told the Daily Star that he is an advocate of smoke-free workplaces, also called a tobacco-use ban off the job a “slippery slope,” arguing that the county?s reasoning – savings in medical costs and health insurance – could justify refusing to hire fat people or people with genetic dispositions to illnesses such as breast cancer.
If passed, the policy would take effect next July and, according to Mr. Huckelberry, would cover use of e-cigarettes though not anti-smoking patches or gums and similar nicotine-replacement products.
The county health department estimates that almost one-third of the county?s more than 7,000 employees are tobacco users.