Firing people for lifestyle choices

One healthcare benefits company is taking an aggressive stance toward healthier lifestyle choices:
* It has “fired”: employees who refuse to submit to a smoking test (and presumably who smoke during off-hours)
* It is “strongly encouraging”: its obese employees to go through diet and exercise programs (including monetary incentives to join health clubs and meeting goals)

I have a few comments on this. At first, I thought it was nobody’s business what employees do after hours. However, this is never true. As an employer, I would be suspicious of the employee who works at a competitor after hours. Selling trade secrets or exposing confidential client information is never ok anytime. Contacting clients outside of work is odd behavior. The point is that the employee isn’t completely free of consequences from the employer for off-hours behavior. Apparently, we are further exploring where to draw the line.

Second, related to the first, is that employment is a contract between the employee and employer. Employment is contingent on the integrity of that contract, and our economy is dependent on the maintenance of the contract process. No one has a right to work at any particular company in such a way that supercedes the contract process. Federal and state laws do restrict what may be put into those contracts (hours worked, nondiscrimination, etc.), but still recognizes that employment is a contract process. And, since smoking is a lifestyle choice despite its addictive qualities, I think it is reasonable for a company to expect its smoking employees to at least be going through a process to quit smoking. It looks like the company gave its employees sufficient notice. I don’t know if they provided smoking cessation support.

I say as long as the policy is based on behavior, it’s ok. I don’t think such a company as Weyco is right for everybody, but hey, there are more companies out there that will probably allow smoking even on the job.

I wonder how the 14 or so who quit smoking between the announcement and enforcement of the policy feel.

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