January 25, 2005

Michigan Firm Cashiers Employee Smokers

WELL, HERE'S an incentive which might get smokers to quit: a Michigan health-administration firm has cashiered all its employees who smoke -- even if the employees only smoked on their own time.

The Associated Press reports that top officials at Weyco Inc. put the policy in place to guard against rising health-care costs. They gave employees quite some time to kick their habit, and 14 smokers who work there did. One quit before the policy went into effect, and four others were struck off when they refused to take a test to determine if they smoked. Company founder Howard Weyers was quoted as saying he didn't want "to pay for the results of smoking."

Now, we ourselves are a bit ambivalent about Weyco's move. Not because of the firing: we think companies should be able to hire and fire whomever they wish. But this is the type of nannyism that makes us wonder if Mr Weyers and his management team have delusional rajah complexes.

In some ways, we don't see this as being too different from the Virginia telecoms firm which forced employees using its cafeteria to eat vegetarian food. When we wrote about that story back in November, one of our commenters said:

Imposing one's own ideas on your employees when those ideas are not related to business issues is certain to cause ill will among many. And in this case, it probably reflects the boss' overly egostical sense of self importance accompanied by a need on his part to show others that he can control them ...

Perhaps the company's sales, profits, quality, customer satisfaction and innovation are all so excellent that it can afford to keep the employess focused on how they are being manipulated for the amusement of management rather than having them attend to the core business functions, but I tend to suspect otherwise.

But in other ways, we admit it is different than the Virginia case. Weyco is a health-administration firm, and so perhaps it's not unreasonable to demand its employees live moderate lives in terms of their vices. After all, it wouldn't do if a sales associate were to light up after making a presentation. We would also note Weyco gave its employees plenty of time to kick their habit or find other work, and that's not something which should go unmentioned. It also helped them kick their habit, which is also something worth mentioning. So they handled it much better than they could have.

Still, there are other ways than firing people to get one's employees to quit smoking, ones which will have far more positive results than simply cashiering the staff. For instance, employees who smoke could perhaps be forced to pay a premium on their health insurance. That's just one slap out of many which a firm could employ. A company could also refuse to offer raises or promotions to its smoking employees, or just forbid smoking on company property. That alone would probably cause employees to try the patch. Combined with appropriate bennies for workers who do quit, it would probably work quite well without consequent losses in morale.

But sacking employees -- Weyco will now have to find four new workers, five if one counts the guy who quit -- is a wasteful and inefficient way to make one's point. After all, the company is going to have to immediately pay to hire these replacements, have them trained, and so on. Furthermore, 26.1 percent of Michiganders smoke, meaning the company has effectively shut out that portion of the labor pool. In theory, Weyco could lose out if it only hires non-smoking applicants -- for what if some hypothetical smoker was the best candidate for a job? If he was productive and competent, would hypothetical higher health costs automatically outweigh the positives he brought to the table? Perhaps, but not necessarily.

Besides, the employees still at Weyco -- and prospective employees -- could feasibly wonder: what's coming down the pike next? Most likely, of course, the answer is nothing. But if the company fires smokers, would the firm move on to regulating its employees' drinking, sex lives and eating habits? Because all of those things can impact health costs as well. Smoking is bad, but so is being overweight, promiscuous, or a heavy drinker.

So while we can't argue about Weyco's right to fire smokers, or argue the company was patently unreasonable in how it handled the matter, we do think Weyco would have been better served with using lighter slaps and better perks in its crusade against employee smoking.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at January 25, 2005 07:03 PM | TrackBack

Camel Special Lights in a box are a special blend of Turkish tobacco. They cause less cancer than other brands. lol

Posted by: russ at January 26, 2005 12:52 PM

Yes, you have found another example of American managment run amuck as an oversized executive ego can't control his need to demonstrate his power and importance by imposing his will on his employees even though there is no reasonable business rational for doing so. Of course, it would indeed greatly benefit the employees if they were to quit smoking and a company program that constructively encourages this would be a noble effort showing actual concern for them while also bringing some benefits back to the company in less sick time and lower health care premiums.

Smokers are the one group in the country who basically have no rights so they are probably out of luck if they try to challenge what has been done here.

The health damaging effects of cigarettes are a personal tragedy for those who continue to smoke but this is not the right way to address the issue.

Posted by: Swammi in Solon at January 26, 2005 03:35 PM

This is depressing. I need a cigarette.

Posted by: simon from jersey at January 27, 2005 02:52 PM

While the old prick has every right to fire whomever he wishes, where he screwed up was firing employees refusing to relinquish their civil rights by succumbing to an unconstitutional "tobacco"/"drug" test. The Fla Supreme Court has already overturned a judgment that favored an employer who fired an employee who refused the drug test. The judgment ruled that the drug test was not required due to the employee not being employed in a "Dangerous" job nor was his prior work performance affected by drugs which would warrant follow-up testing.

The plaintiff's attorneys and the ACLU are going to cream their jeans on this one!!!! LOL!

Posted by: Don at January 27, 2005 08:23 PM

I am offended by obese people and believe they should be fired! lol....I fear getting fired because
.....i wont go on a lunch break jog
.....i stayed up past the company's mandatory
10pm bedtime
.....i watch letterman and my employer wants me
to watch leno
...... i voted republican and my employer wants me
to vote democrat
......i drive a vehicle my employer deemed unsafe
How sick this world is getting when your employer
runs your personal life!

Posted by: dj at February 3, 2005 06:47 PM

just what does weyco do and who are their customers.....maybe we can boycott their business and those who do business with them!

Posted by: dj at February 3, 2005 06:50 PM

weyco website: http://www.weyco.com/web/index.jsp

companies weyco does business with:
Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield
Blue Cross Blue Shield
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan
Care Choices
Delta Dental
EHS (Eckerd Health Systems)
Express Scripts
Jefferson Pilot
Mutual of Omaha
Protective Dental Care
Vision Service Plan (VSP)

Posted by: dj at February 3, 2005 07:01 PM