Friday, February 11, 2005

Butt Out Boss

The Dallas Morning News weighs in on the Weyco story about Big Brother.

Butt Out, Boss: Employer's anti-smoking ultimatum unfair

06:32 PM CST on Wednesday, February 9, 2005

Big Boss Man is watching you. If you are a smoker who works for Weyco, that is.

The Michigan company has instituted a policy making smoking, even off company property and even in an employee's own home, a firing offense. Company CEO Howard Weyers says he's sick and tired of rising health care costs cutting into his company's bottom line, and he refuses from now on to pay the medical bills for smokers. Hey, Marlboro Man, if you don't like it, get another job.

Well. Far be it from this editorial page, which enthusiastically supports most smoking bans, to extinguish the fire in Mr. Weyers' belly for improving the health of his employees. Rising medical costs really are enormously burdensome on businesses that subsidize health coverage for their employees. We sympathize with his frustration over having to pay for his workers' bad habits.

But this policy really goes too far. Smoking is a filthy habit, and a destructive one – but it is legal. It's disturbing to think that one's employer has the right to regulate one's behavior off the job site. Drug testing? That's fine, because no one has a right to use illegal substances. But nicotine is not against the law.

Mr. Weyers promises not to extend his policy to cover obesity, but why shouldn't he? The U.S. government predicts that obesity will soon overtake smoking as the leading cause of preventable death in this country. Once you've granted the principle that an employer can fire an employee for legal off-the-job activities that do not affect job performance, where do you draw the line? It should be noted that because blue-collar workers smoke and suffer from obesity in higher proportions than others, this issue has class overtones.

Whatever color your collar, Weyco's policy is a threat to the privacy rights of all Americans. True, nobody has a right to work at the company, but if its draconian anti-smoking policy catches on, it won't be long before other companies are adopting it, too. And if it spreads to obesity, one day soon, American workers may be faced with an absurd but all-too-real choice: Your Big Mac or your job.