My Life, My (Company's) Time


A Massachusetts man has been fired from his job for failing a drug test.  Well, okay, so that doesn’t sound very newsy, but what if the drug they found was a legal one?  And what if he never used that legal drug at work?  Scratching your head yet?  The man was fired for having nicotine in his system.  Not for smoking on the job, not for missing work to smoke, not even for missing work for some smoking-related illness, he was fired because his bloodstream contained nicotine.  Period.

Excuse me, but I have a teensy problem with that.  Sure, I know that smoking is very bad for you, and I know that it kills, costs the country millions each year, and is generally not the more pleasant of our legal bad habits.  But it IS legal.  Furthermore, the man, it turns out, had been trying to cut back on his smoking and had dropped from smoking a pack a day to five to six cigarettes per day, and to help him with his quest, he purchased (legally and without a prescription) nicotine gum.  Which he chewed on the way to the drug test.  Sigh.

Forget for a moment that he was chewing the nicotine gum.  Even if he hadn’t been trying to quit, he was still fired for having a habit that didn’t interfere with his work, something he did legally and at home.  Imagine:   you’re sitting at home, have a few friends over, and decide to fire up a (perfectly legal) cigarette to accompany your glass of wine (or beer or eggnog).  You go into work the next day for one of those surprise drug tests:  And you fail because you have nicotine in your system because you’re a social smoker.  You’re fired.   What if you’re just at a party and happen to inhale a great deal of secondhand smoke?  Can you explain to your boss?  Sure, but company policy says that a positive test is a positive test, and yours is a nonsmoking company.  Pack up your stuff and hit the pavement; you might cost your boss or insurance company money one day.

How can a company get away with this sort of thing?  Well, it’s adopted a “wellness” program that says that its employees cannot smoke cigarettes, anywhere, ever; this qualifies the company for lower insurance premiums.  And many companies have adopted this and similar policies.   Now, I’m not saying that insurance companies should not charge more for smokers or for pre-existing conditions or whatever, but I am saying that firing someone because they smoke is problematic to me.  What’s wrong with it?  A great deal, I say. 

Let’s take a look at this particular slippery slope:  yes, smoking kills a lot of people each year, but many things kill people.  For instance, smoking kills 400,000 people in the United States per year, but high cholesterol kills a shockingly large number of people at 300,000 per year (also in the U. S.).  How long before companies begin checking for high cholesterol?  And what about blood sugar?  The global (not national) number of deaths due to high blood sugar is 3.16 million per year.  Should people with borderline diabetes or diabetes be denied jobs because of potential health costs and life insurance payouts?  HIV and AIDS patients die in the United States in too large numbers each year, should it follow that anyone not using a condom during sex should be fired?   Obesity kills, so perhaps we shouldn’t employ people who are obese–and we don’t even need a drug or blood test for this one, a quick visual during the interview will clear that one right up.  If an employee begins to look suspiciously large, perhaps we can test for ho ho’s and potato chips? 

A few things are at stake here, a few things to think about, right?  One, since when does an employer have a right to know what I do in the privacy of my own home or for that matter when I am anywhere that is not at the office or at work?  Obviously, if I’m arrested for something, that’s different, that would negatively influence my ability to do my job, but as a law abiding citizen, my time and my life should be my own.  Two, this is one of those cases that we really have to think about in terms of the “and when they came for me, there was no one left to speak up”; it may make some sense to fire smokers (at least to some people, if not to me), and if that were in place, it would make MORE sense to extend that to other risky behaviors. 

Which leads me to the overlapping third thing to ponder, and though I’ve made light of it above, this really is a slippery slope.  Medical costs are outrageous in this country, and insurance is expensive for both companies and individuals, will it really be so long before “unhealthy lifestyles” make one unemployable?  And an “unhealthy lifestyle” might be anything from not exercising to eating too much of something to putting oneself in peril by engaging in risky hobbies such as mountain climbing or skiing or sky diving.   Extreme?  Sure, but if someone had proposed this if you smoke at home you’ll be fired policy fifty years ago, they would have been looked at like they were insane; hell, they may even have been fired.


More on smoking kills:

U. S. cause of death stats:

The information about the man’s case was obtained from Greater Boston, a local PBS program hosted by Emily Rooney (yes, Andy Rooney’s daughter); the interview aired last night.


17 thoughts on “My Life, My (Company's) Time

  1. I have heard of these policies. I was asked when i started at Frito lay if I smoked, even once in a while. We dont have a no smoking policy, but i am really not surprised at this. I am surpried the incident happenedd in Massachusets, and not in California. But if it happened in California, the bleeding heartt liberals here would make sure that person got their job back and were somehow compensated for their personal pain.

  2. I am outraged of course. More and more of our rights are being erroded in this once great country under the guise of it being “for our own good.” When my company sent out the letter that our facility would go to a non-smoking facility, I was still smoking at the time and I rebelled along with many others who believed a little bit hypocritical of a company to tout setting a healthy example for the community by going smoke free and at the same time still allowing our patients their smoke breaks. So this company’s employees had to clock out for their 30 minute break in a 12 hour shift to leave the property to smoke and then come back in to work taking the patients out to closed courtyards for 5 smoke breaks! This same letter went on and on about it’s patients and visitors having a right to be in a healthier smoke free environment. I since quit smoking but it was NOT because of my company policy. I just wanted to quit hacking my head off everytime I opened my mouth to speak. So what will we do as people to get back some of the rights and privileges we used to enjoy in the “good old days.”

  3. I am very familiar with this scenario. One of the things I do is handle company-paid health insurance for our company. When I started with the company the health insurance had went through the roof on 25 employees and a cost of 80,000 a year for health insurance, which by the way comes out to 3200 a year cost, on top of each employees salary. Do you want the benefits of company provided health insurance? These companies are doing what they have to survive, trust me. I have had Blue Cross turn down people for being 15 lbs overweight, a reckless driving ticket, asthma, back injuries, and all sorts of things. I have had nurses come out and perform blood tests before they could be insured. There is nothing that says a insurance company has to provide insurance to someone, even with payment of premium. The people at fault in all of this are insurance companies who only want to insure healthy people under 30 for 150 bucks a month. They don’t want to insure old people who go to the doctor regularly and have problems. I know I got long-winded, but as a previous nicotine addict and having to deal with the insurance stuff, I can see where they are coming from. The people who make these decisions could care less about your problems with second-hand smoke, it all comes down to survival and what a company can afford. If you work for a company that even wants to hassle with it, you are doing good. Health and retirement benefits are being dropped all over the country because companies just cannot afford them. Stepping off the podium now.

  4. Spartonmom, you make me laugh with your picture of the bleeding heart liberals, and I do see what you mean! Smiles.

    I’m with you, Mavis, that policy sounds ridiculous; how is more healthy that smoking patients don’t know that caregivers also smoke? Confusing.

    Hey Scarlett, you’re alwsys welcome to step up to any podium of mine, you know that! And I could see your point better if the guy’s insurance had been cancelled, but he got fired (also of course losing his health care benefits). And you do bring up an important and very relevant point about how expensive health care is in this country and the lengths that companies go to in order to insure only the fittest, youngest, and healthiest (i.e. those unlikely to need the insurance at all). I think that’s a travesty, and not just a gripe against the insurance companies–who let’s face it are in business and could give a crap about human life, but also against hospitals, doctors, and our government pandering to pharmecutical companies. But that’s all a topic for another day . . . and another blogger.

  5. Way to go Scarlet! Thanks so much for your insight.

    First of all, insurance companies have too much power. As Scarlet states, they are the #1 problem.

    Having that pointed out to me, you can take this as kind of a compliment! Most companies look at you as an investment. They want to protect you so to speak. They want, no, have to protect you and your health not becasue they care about you, but because they have plunked down their asets down on your healthy or unhealthy hide.

    Laws on private industry are limited regarding job security and health and safety issues. Companies that have a close eye on the bottom line will act accordingly. Right or wrong, they have the right. Of course, I work for the federal government and they wouldn’t dare do anything like that for fear of legal backlash. Why there is just a big difference between the private and public sector should serve as a screen for the future.

  6. I dunno, Gregg, my hackles go flying up when I read or see stories like this guy’s. Someone, I think it was our Mavis, once posted on companies checking out people’s myspace before hiring them, and I just think that it’s on the same level. My private life is my own (of course, if I’m stupid enough to post objectionable material under my own name, maybe I’m too stupid to work for their company, I get that part.). Anyway, there is definitely a problem here, and whether it’s the power of the insurance companies, the wildly high cost of health care, the privacy of the law abiding individual, or whatever else, it’s worth discussing.

    btw, it’s always good to hear from you, Gregg. Huggs.

  7. I shake my head in disgust … this is just another form of social engineering … but more to the point if you followed out the thought process of those who smoke as being unemployable that would mean you and I as tax payers would end up paying more in taxes because they are now receiving public assistance …. meaning we are now paying for their medical ..

  8. I guess I should have added….some insurance companies give big breaks to companies who set rules like these. We have have several riders on our workman’s comp for mandatory drug testing, and a no tolerance written policy against playing with company equipment. When we wrote our insurance under a group policy, we had to abide by their group policies. I have one older worker that makes 10 dollars an hour but his health insurance is $1,100 a month with a $5,000 deductible due to previous cancer issues. We keep him on because my boss is a good employer but quite frankly other’s that I have worked for wouldn’t do that…they would have cut him loose in a heart beat.

    I am 39 years old, go in annually and have never had any problems…my insurance costs the company 325 a month. I have 20 year old kids on the program, in good health, their insurance is $100 a month. On a group policy, the whole policy would be written on the older worker mentioned above. He sets the standards for the rest of the group. If they are getting a discount for zero nicotine tolerance, then they are contractually libel to follow up and carry out contract obligations. A company cannot drop someone from insurance to keep their rates down, they can only fire them for not following company rules.

  9. Bear, you make an excellent point, but I guess the insurance company and the particular business refusing a smoker employment get to pass the buck back onto the taxpayer (thereby themselves, just not in a big way as if they paid for his insurance).

    No problem, Amb, take your time; you’ve got a full house today, hope you’re having a GRAND time!! Huggs.

    I dunno, Scarlett, I just think it’s wrong to essentially say that smokers are unemployable, cannot get decent jobs (i.e. those that offer health care). Whatever the rationale, I think it’s a damn shame (and a few other choice words). Hugggs.

    Yeah, I’m with you, Bert, much as I complain about this thing or that thing, I never lose sight of the fact that I love this country and am proud to be a citizen of a country that allows me to gripe freely about this or that. Thanks for the reminder!!

  10. Fuzzy, I am with you on this, I certainly don’t want you to think we are on diff. sides of the road. I work for the company I do because of the values and integrity. We prefer older workers…pay more in insurance but have calculated the costs all the way around and find that in the long run, it is still cheaper. These are just some of the battles that I have had to deal with, so I can see where other companies caved in and I am glad I don’t work for one of them.

  11. Huggs Regal Scarlett. I do see what you are saying, and I know where you are coming from personally. Seeing the company’s side of it is a good thing because it really illustrates what I am saying about the slippery slope. Once this is justified and wide spread (hell, it’s logical and good business, right?), then it’ll be cholesterol screening and then blood pressure and then . . .

    Bear Doodle recently did a blog about how parental involvement and rights have been eroded over the past thirty or so years, and it’s illustrative of the same thing in a way. It makes sense not to allow abusive parents to beat their children, but how do we stop it except by saying no one anywhere can do so? Now we have parents who are afraid to swat an errant kid on the bottom, something some kids really really need!, because DSS may be called and the kids taken away. That shift didn’t happen overnight, it started with something that made sense, then the next addition made sense because of it, and so on. Slippery slope.

    WoooooHOOOOOOO!! Thanks to everyone here for participating and making this a fun debate!! Hugggssss to each and every one of you!!

  12. BBB. I haven’t had time to read up on this so I will bow out of commenting. I do however have something to say about your new one, so will pop there now.

  13. Hei Fuzz.

    This is soo thought-provinking that it makes one tingle!! Well, the company’s ‘plans’ for whatever supercede over the private individual making that company/inc a despot of the worst kind while trying to be a Nanny: do this, don’t do that!!
    This only the beginning as you say, ‘a slippery slope’ as all the relating n not-so relating things will pop up to ‘support’ these degrees from despot-inc.. Hmm. Not good. Thank you for yet another grea blog. HuGGI from Rii xx. =))

  14. BBB, you are too funny!! You don’t have to comment on every topic, just popping in and saying “hi” or whatever is perfect. I have to admit, though, that I do always look forward to your responses! Huggs for days.

    Rii, what an awesome compliment! Don’t know if I’ve ever written anything tingle-y before; makes me happy that you think so. I do like the Despot, Inc. point you make; it’s spot on to my mind. Giant huggs to you!!

What say you?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s