January 28, 2005

Just You Wait

Way back in the day, when I managed a Caribou, I would sneak outside for the occasional smoke break. Some of my customers cottoned onto the fact I was a smoker and tried to give me the whole "tsk-tsk" routine. It's so bad for you. You should really quit. Why do you need to do this anyway? You have to go outside in the freezing cold to fire up---isn't that a clue that perhaps you're doing something that's crazy? and so on and so forth.

If you're a smoker, you, too, undoubtedly have gotten these schpiels thrown at you. It's generally fine with me when someone does this. As long as they're not getting righteous about it, I choose to believe it simply means they're concerned for my well being. I know, most likely, their motivation for their speeches had nothing to do with my health, but rather their desire not to have to smell the smoke, but I can take that. They chose not to voice that concern. They chose to voice their concern about me. There's a difference.

What was funny, though, was when someone would get righteous with me and said cigarettes should be illegal. This presented a bit of a leap: these people morphed from concerned customer to activist. I told these people, hey, go right ahead and make them illegal...and just you wait. Once the government and the health advocacy groups don't have smokers to beat up on, they'll start aiming for other people. They'll go after the obsese, because of course they don't need to shove all that unhealthy food down their gullets. They'll go after people who eat too much refined sugar, because that causes Type 2 diabetes. What about red meat? Doesn't that lead to heart disease? Why, heck, they might just go after people who drink too much caffeine! Of course, I would generally say this to them right as I was handing them their coffee.

Talk about having all the tools at the ready to drive home a point. It was beautiful. The looks on their faces were priceless. They either scoffed or they looked abjectly horrified. The scoffers couldn't make the leap of the imagination. The horrifieds could make the leap, but they were far and few between. Privacy rights weren't all that big a deal five years ago.

Well, as it turns out, I was right.

Four workers in the United States have lost their jobs after refusing to take a test to see if they were smokers. They were employees of Michigan-based healthcare firm Weyco, which introduced a policy banning its staff from smoking - even away from the workplace.

The firm says the ban is to keep health costs down and has helped 14 staff to stop smoking, but opponents say the move is a violation of workers' rights.

If the firm survives a potential legal challenge, it could set a precedent.

Weyco gave its staff a stark ultimatum at the end of last year - either stop smoking completely on 1 January or leave their jobs.

The four workers who refused to take the test left their jobs voluntarily, although a lawyer for Weyco confirmed the company was preparing to dismiss them.

The firm says that, as its business is to help other firms save money and improve employee health through its benefit plans, it is only natural it should take a lead on the issue. {...}

You got that? If you're a Weyco employee and you smoke at home, you can be fired. They're all about leading by example.

When you read that little bit up there about them coming after you, you thought that was just BS, right?

Well, it's not.

{...}According to Reuters news agency, Mr Weyers wants to turn his attention next to overweight workers.

"We have to work on eating habits and getting people to exercise. But if you're obese, you're (legally) protected," he said. {...}

Whether this new litmus test will make it through the courts is up in the air. The privacy rights of the individual have been so eroded over the years, I can't make an accurate guess as to what the courts will do as a result. But you might want to pay attention---whether you're a smoker or a non-smoker---because anything you might do that could be considered unhealthy by someone could be banned. Furthermore, eating a can of Sour Cream and Onion Pringles in your off-hours, if Mr. Weyers has his way, could potentially get you fired.

You could conceivably lose your job because you think you have rights you don't have. Why don't you have those rights? Well, because of all those public health precedents set by the anti-smoking lawsuits.

Well done, people! Good job. Enjoy your fat-free, caffeine-free, salt-free, sugar-free and smoke-free world! I hope you love it!

UPDATE: Might have been a little premature with my claims of sacking due to Pringle consumption. According to the Opinion Journal:

{...}The company can tell fat employees to slim down, but it can't try to save money on health care by firing them. According to a Weyco press release cited by WRAL.com yesterday: "Anyone concerned about limiting employers' rights to specify terms of employment should know that federal law protects people with conditions like obesity, alcoholism and AIDS."

Point taken.

How long, honestly, do you think obese workers will be protected? Particularly once people do studies correlating lost work time with obesity? Of course, then Congress will get into the act. Hmmm. You think that protection will last? Particularly since they have the public health precedents set up by anti-smoking lawsuits?

Slip, slip, slip goes the slope.

Posted by Kathy at January 28, 2005 01:18 PM

Looks like the Food Nazis just solidified their eventual win (unfortunately).

Posted by: me at February 10, 2005 11:18 AM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?