Thursday, January 27, 2005

Smokers Ousted - Fatties Next

I'm sure most of you have seen this story about a company who told their employees to stop smoking or lose their jobs. And by "stop smoking" he means period, not just at work. Employees are not allowed to smoke on their own time. For those who didn't see it, the reason was that the company wanted to drive their health care costs down. People were givien ample warning and offered help to quit. The company owner is going after overweight people next...

I still can't decide how to react to this story. Assuming that it is deemed legal, is this a good thing or a bad thing? It's easy to cheer, because smoking is bad not only for the smoker, but for people around them. But is it right? Where does a company's right to make demands on its employees end and personal civil liberty begin? The owner's argument, that the employees can choose not to work there, is to me, a slippery slope. That works when just one or two companies are doing this, but what happens if they are successful at implementing these changes? Other companies are going to want to get in on the cost cutting. Pretty soon, people may have no choice but to sign away personal privacy just to put food on the table. Yes, that's a huge leap from firing all smokers, but you know what they say. The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.

So, on the one hand, it's laudable to want to attack the root causes of preventable death in this country. It is good for everyone. Healthcare costs go down. People become more physically capable. I suppose you could argue that it is not good for the companies profiting from these conditions. But, still.

Then there is the other hand, where we have civil liberties. It's not equally easy for everyone to get these particular issues under control. And many smokers relapse. What happens then? Are they immediately fired? And what about people with weight problems? How far over their recommended weight are they allowed to be? Are they going to be allowed paid exercise time? Easy access to nutritionally sound meals when they are forced to work long hours?

And then we start to get into other dangerous behaviors. Sexually promiscuos people are health risks when it comes to STDs. Clearly they would have to be let go. What about people who engage in risky sports, like sky diving or bungee jumping? Sure they may be out exercising, but they are too high of a risk of extra medical care. Sunbathers? Skin cancer. Chewing tobacco? Lip cancer.

So, what do you think? Legal? Illegal, but a good idea? Dangerous?