Friday, December 09, 2005

Weyco Announces Plan to Charge Employees if their Spouses Smoke

In a CNN interview broadcast online yesterday, the president of Okemos, Michigan-based Weyco, Inc. announced his plan to implement a $1,000 charge for employees who report that their spouses smoke. Weyco reached national fame earlier this year when it implemented a policy by which any employees who smoke were given one year to quit, or be fired. Three employees who failed to quit smoking were indeed fired earlier this year.

According to the interview, employees are not only asked whether they smoke, but Breathalyzer-type tests are administered to confirm that they do not smoke.

It appears that the reporter was jokingly asking if Weyco would begin requiring spouses of employees not to smoke, and he was quite surprised when the Weyco president responded: "Yes." He explained that such employees would not be fired, but that they would be assessed a $1,000 penalty for their spouse smoking.

The Rest of the Story

This is absolutely insane.

I have already condemned the policy of firing employees who smoke or not hiring smokers as a policy, but even for those anti-smoking groups or advocates who support those policies, this has got to be viewed as being ridiculously inappropriate.

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.

I think it will be interesting to see if anti-smoking groups come out and condemn this degree of intrusion into individual privacy.

Given the extent of employment discrimination and privacy intrusion against smokers that is going on (see yesterday's post about the WHO's policy of no longer hiring smokers), I have come to the decision that, despite my extreme reluctance to support a legislative approach to regulate employment policies, it is now necessary to intervene to protect these types of unwarranted intrusions into individual employee's privacy and this extent of employment discrimination.

For this reason, I now actively support SB381, legislation introduced into the Michigan legislature by state Senator Verg Bernero, which would prevent employers from making off-the-job legal behavior a condition of employment, except in cases where that behavior directly affects job performance or relates to the mission of a company. That bill has been stalled in committee, but I hope that the WHO story and the continuing Weyco saga bring it out for active debate.

And I hope that anti-smoking groups in Michigan will either support that legislation, or unequivocally condemn the policies of Weyco, which represent exactly the kind of employment discrimination that we have worked for decades to try to prevent.

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