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Jobs Up in Smoke

Weyco Inc., a healthcare benefits administrator based in Okemos, Michigan, fired four employees for refusing to take a test that would determine whether they were smokers. The company had set a policy that took effect at the beginning of this year that barred smoking, even off hours. The company doesn't want to pay for the health costs of smoking, and it should know better than anyone just what those are.

My mind reels with the issues here. I've managed smokers before, and I used to joke that my company should put a phone and Internet kiosks outside to make up for lost productivity. And I'd be happy to debate just what companies should or shouldn't do to make up for the productivity losses that result from smoking.

But Weyco takes it to a whole other level. Wouldn't have it been a little less ham-fisted to say that we're a healthcare company and therefore we can't accept smokers because it's in conflict with our values? But if you are a smoker we'll subsidize an effort for you to quit? If Weyco does that, it may even be considered enlightened.

But I think it's a bit much for an employer to dictate my off-hours behavior as a condition of employment when the activity in question is legal. I realize that smoking could impact Weyco in terms of additional health costs down the road. Is there some compromise that could be reached here in terms of what a smoker would have to pay for in his or her health insurance until he or she kicked the habit?

What do you think? Is Weyco right? Is Weyco right in principle but wrong in the way it went about trying to achieve its goal? Or is Weyco a frightening example of our diminished civil liberties when it comes to accepting corporate employment?