Tuesday, September 18, 2007

School Employee Loses Job Because She Smelled of Smoke

According to a Fox News Dallas report, a Denton (Texas) school district employee has lost her job because she smelled of smoke, which apparently aggravated allergies of a special needs student with whom she was assigned to work.

According to the report: “The Denton Independent School District has removed an employee from her position because she smells like cigarette smoke. Suzanne Lidster was thrilled when she was recently hired to assist a student with disabilities at L.A. Nelson Elementary. … But after less than two weeks on the job, Lidster said she received a voicemail informing her that she had lost her position. The school's principal left a message on her cell phone Tuesday morning saying that a doctor said the odor of smoke on Lidster had aggravated the student's allergies. The principal also said that Lidster was not a good fit for the job.”

Lidster reportedly told Fox News that while she smokes about ½ pack per day, she never smokes on the school campus.

The Rest of the Story

Even if it is true that merely the smell of smoke on this woman aggravated a child’s allergies, it seems to me like the school handled this inappropriately. At the very least, I would have thought that the principal would meet face-to-face with the employee to inform her that her position was being terminated because she smelled of smoke. In addition, I think a more prudent course of action would have been to at least give the woman a chance to remediate the situation. Perhaps she would quit smoking. Perhaps she could find a way to eliminate the smell that was allegedly triggering an allergic reaction. Perhaps she could have been reassigned to work with a special needs student who is not sensitive to the smell of tobacco smoke. There seem to be a whole range of viable options available short of leaving a message on her cell phone that she is fired because she smells.

Normally, this story might not have caught my attention. But coming in the wake of yesterday’s post about a man in the UK who is being denied surgery because he is a smoker, I felt it was worthy of reporting here.

While there is no legal issue here (with at-will employment, a worker can indeed be fired for almost any reason), there is an ethical issue. At very least, there is an issue of what is appropriate employer conduct relating to one’s workers. Here, I think the employer showed inappropriate judgment in handling the situation in this way. The interesting question is: Did the employer act this way because the worker being fired was a smoker? Or is this the way all school employees are treated?

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