The article notes that "lighting up at home could have a high price: It could cost smokers a job. Faced with rising health-care costs, a few employers refuse to hire anyone who smokes. Cleveland-based Medical Mutual, one of the state's largest health insurance companies, recently started testing new hires for tobacco use. All prospective employees must submit to a urine test for evidence of nicotine use. (The threshold for detecting nicotine presence is high enough, experts say, that people exposed to secondhand smoke don't risk testing positive.) Those who flunk are automatically rejected for employment, regardless of their qualifications. ...
As a company that encourages its customers to lead healthy lifestyles, Medical Mutual decided that hiring only nonsmokers sets a good example, said Paula Sauer, vice president of care management. 'In keeping with health and wellness being part of our whole philosophy, it made sense,' Sauer said."
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In keeping with health and wellness being part of Medical Mutual's philosophy, does it not also make sense to set a good example by refusing to hire fat people, people who don't exercise, people who eat too much fatty foods, people who eat food with trans-fats, and people with inadequately controlled diabetes and hypertension?
Apparently not, as Medical Mutual has not announced plans to refuse to hire any of these other groups which greatly increase health care costs and set an example of unhealthy lifestyles. The fact that the company is singling out smokers to discriminate against in its hiring suggests that something beyond merely health and economic concerns is at play. And it's called bigotry.
I wonder what's next. Will Medical Mutual incentivize its customers to lead healthy lifestyles by refusing to cover the cost of illnesses caused by smoking? How about requiring smokers to sign a contract stating that they promise to try to quit? Or refusing to cover the cost of illnesses among smokers if they fail to sign up for a smoking cessation program?
Actually, though, it doesn't really matter what's next, because what's happened already is bad enough. What's happened already is employment discrimination against smokers which is unfair, unfortunate, and unjustified.
If Medical Mutual were taking a broad and consistent approach to hiring in terms of healthy lifestyles, and refusing to hire anyone who engages in a behavior that has serious long-term health implications, it would be one thing. Then I might take them seriously and believe that the health and economic concerns are really at the forefront of their action. But by discriminating only against smokers, I think they have exposed the true force beyond the policy: bigotry and intolerance of a large segment of the population whose personal and private lifestyle choices they are unwilling to accept.
I'm sorry, but employers have no business inside the homes of their employees, other than to ensure that they are not engaging in illegal behaviors or behaviors that directly impair their job performance. And employers certainly have no business getting inside the body fluids of their employees, except, again, to ensure that they are not using illegal substances. But when it comes to engaging in lawful behaviors in one's home that do not directly influence job performance, an employer has no business interfering with an employee's or potential employee's privacy.