Companies have right to regulate workers’ habits

Freedom Newspapers

What you do on your own time increasingly looks like it could be your employer’s business.

Smokers are the focus right now as businesses look at ways to contain health-care costs, with some companies increasing the insurance premiums of smokers or even firing them.

In Ohio, Marysville-based Scotts Miracle-Gro has told employees who smoke to quit by October 2006 or they will lose their jobs. The company’s chief executive, James Hagedorn, said the company is watching its health-care costs and wants to encourage healthier lifestyles.

The lawn-and-garden company is providing plenty of time and support for smokers to quit. Scotts Miracle-Gro thus joins a growing number of companies taking steps to reduce smokers’ increased health-care costs. Other companies charge smokers higher premiums, or don’t hire them at all, The Associated Press reported.

Is this fair? Yes. A company can place restrictions on hiring and continued employment as it sees fit.

Smokers voluntarily put themselves at greater risk, but pass along the cost to the company and other employees. In setting such policies, however, a company should consider where to draw the line. Some companies offer other financial incentives for those who make healthier lifestyle choices.

Scotts Miracle-Gro is poised to join Okemos, Mich.-based Weyco Inc., which this year began firing employees who smoke. A more typical approach has been to make smokers pay higher premiums for health insurance. If you take more risks, you pay a higher premium.

Companies looking to contain health-care costs eventually may extend such policies to other lifestyle choices. Insurance premium increases could be targeted for the heaviest among us or those who don’t exercise regularly.

“What you do in your own home on your own time is none of your boss’ business,” Lewis Maltby, president of the New Jersey-based National Workrights Institute, told AP.

It isn’t as simple as what you do on your own time, however. Smokers have an increased likelihood of needing health-care services, just as those with sedentary lifestyles do. That translates into higher costs for employers and co-workers, some of whose premiums rise through no fault of their own.