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Tell Us Your Thoughts

April 28, 2008 5:33 PM

nosmokingcropped2.jpgSmoke Screening

In 21 states, not hiring people who smoke is perfectly legal. At Whirlpool Corp. in Evansville, Ind., 39 factory workers, all who had claimed they were non-smokers to get a $500 discount on their company health insurance, were suspended without pay after they were seen smoking outside their factory. Corporations say this is all about stopping the bleeding, since health care costs are soaring at twice the rate of inflation. But this kind of corporate interference in personal lives is raising all kinds of questions about how much information your employer has the right to know.

Critics say this kind of personal interference has gone too far. They question what’s next: If you skip the sunscreen, should you be held responsible for paying the bills if you develop skin cancer? If you eat gooey candy, should you be held responsible for the dental bill when your teeth need work?

On the contrary, supporters say everyone must pay the price for rising health care costs. Those with habits or lifestyles that contribute to poor health should be required to pay more.

We want you to weigh in. Well, not literally. (Though don’t be surprised if your employer requires you to hop on the scale.) Tell us your thoughts on an employer’s right to know what happens outside of work.


Lilly Ledbetter was a supervisor at a Goodyear Tire plant in Gadsden, Ala., for almost 20 years. When she neared retirement, she got an anonymous letters listing the salaries of men with the same job. While she was making $3,727 a month, the lowest paid man was getting $4,286. Goodyear declined Ledbetter’s offer to settle for the difference between her earnings and that lowest-paid man’s — about $60,000. A jury awarded her $223,776 in back pay and more than $3 million in punitive damages. Goodyear appealed and the Supreme Court ruled 5-to-4 against Ledbetter, saying that she should have filed her suit within 180 days of receiving her first paycheck in which Goodyear discriminated against her. Problem was she didn’t know the information at that time. A bill before the Senate last week stipulated that every time a woman like Ledbetter got a check that was lower than those of the men doing the same job, it would trigger a new 180-day deadline. Sponsors needed 60 votes to get it passed, but they only got 56. “I would never have believed this in the United States of America,” said Ledbetter, 70, who watched from the Senate gallery.

Opponents claim such a law would bring too many claims against employers, which would flood the courts. Some supporters wonder if the fear of such suits would prompt equal pay for equal work regardless of gender.

Share your take.

Comments (30)

Katie and Hillary are women of courage, going where no woman has gone before. My own view is that they aren't the representatives of the majority. I really don't believe women need to prove anything. They are uniquely designed and special. If men don't get that, then they don't get that.I believe there are more women than men in the United States, so I don't think we can base this poll on men alone. Why don't we, as women, just embrace how awesome we were created, use our gifts and talents to the best of our ability in whatever arena we are in, and let the cards fall as they may. Life's way too short to try and prove ourselves to men or each other for that matter. Just rock your own world and that will be the legacy you leave!

RE: Ledbetter claim

I hold my hand high when it comes to equal pay and believe that a man should not be paid a higher salary than a woman when doing the same job. I also know that there are other things that can come in to play here - experience level when entering the job, as well as performance ratings can mean a differing rate of pay.

However, when I read more about the Ledbetter claim, it appears there is more to it than a man being paid higher (as referred to in the blog post with regard to her salary vs. the lowest paid man's salary).

In this claim Ledbetter tried to go back in time on (way back)and is also based around 'merit' increases that she believes were unfair during her employment. Although, she did not say anything about unfairness of these increases until her resignation.

Here is the link if you want more than just what the media covers (which we all know tends to stir the brew without giving all the relevant information). The link is the actual pdf file to the case. (if the link won't work just google Ledbetter and you'll see the pdf file link.


What hits the bottom line for me here is that perhaps a piece of Title VII needs to be re-evaluated with regard to time length for filing a claim regarding compensation 'and' more importantly, stipulate tougher charges for employers who discriminate based on merit & compensation.

Perhaps the look back period should also include a review of men in similar positions (looking at performance/merit ratings and increases that are given based on their performance level vs. what a woman receives with the same rating, etc.).

Maybe this would be something that would make employers pay more attention to the equal pay issue, knowing they will be held responsible for justifying giving higher level pay increases to men vs. women who are in the same job, receiving the same performance rating scale.

We need to do something...any other ideas?

Robin Ogden

As a smoker, I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, it is true that smoking causes more illness and increases health care costs. On the other hand, most smokers would like to quit but feel it is impossible. My main concern is: When does it stop? Obesity is also a major contributor to the high cost of health care. Can employees be fired based on body fat content or eating habits? The expectation that we all pose minimal liability is unrealistic.

I don't think it right for employers to discriminate against workers who smoke. Lifestyles are a personal choice that should not be brought in to the workplace. I do, however, believe that employers can set standards such as no smoking on company property. Everyone makes the occasional unhealthy decision and employees should not be punished for their personal choices in their private lives. I am sure that the top executives at such company's have their habits that could lead to healthy problems such as smoking, drinking, and poor diet. They wouldn't want employees to judge them, so they should not judge their employees.

No one should have the right to discriminate for any reason. This includes smoking tobacco. I am appalled that health concerns about smoking has become a reason for discrimination to be acceptable. Already smokers are ostracized and forced into uncomfortable conditions for their habits caused by an industry preying on individuals for the profit of their corporations, but we are not victimizing them again with all of these conditions. I personally feel that a shelter should be built for smokers to be in for smoking to shield them from weather.
I really am horrified that discrimination has been legitimized in this way.
Where is the compassion?
Discrimination is still discrimination regardless of reasoning. People who smoke should not have to even have higher insurance rates than others. Are we going to require higher insurance/health care etc. for those who have diabetes? Or we tell them don't eat sugar? What is next? Who is next?
Greed is greed.

Here's my thought on this. Great, ok then lets test all the people on medicaid/medicare, which I pay for with my taxes, at the job that won't let me smoke. Ditto for welfare benefits that I pay for with my taxes at my job that I had to pass a drug test to get. Fair is fair right?

Re: Smokers and Privacy Issues

Gooey candy and dentist bills might not have been the best example to use because that is an example of having to directly accept responsibility for you own actions. I suspect the problem with the smokers being fired was not so much the fact they smoked as they lied on the insurance exams so that they could receive a discount. Smoking is considered a high risk behavior as is flying a plane and bungee jumping.
Their decision to lie could cause serious problems with the insurance company resulting in immediate rate hikes and lowering of benefits for all employees. Health insurance is very expensive and many companies can no longer afford to offer it causing even more people to be without coverage. I see this example as being an honesty and integrity issue that potentially affects all the employees of that company.

I am a smoker and I do not agree with people getting terminated because they smoke. Yes, because that lied on the application for insurance. I agree with Laura, there are too many issues out there reqarding health care. I have cancer that is not terminal, will I get fired for that? I can't sleep at night, so I take sleeping pills, will I get fired for that or not hired at all? Who is making these stupid limitations on our rights? THE CORPORATIONS!!!!It is my choice to smoke, drink, take drugs and live with cancer (let them be in my shoes for awhile). I thought people had the right to do what they want in the land of the free......

So, what is the next thing is - stop breathing and , sorry, farting, because we produce too much methane and cleaning it cost too much? Excuse me, but this
country has gone too far. This is what we call tyranny. When the private companies run the society as their private playground, this is extremely intrusive. So, how about gays and lesbians?
Is it not unnatural, to have sex in a way it does not produce children? Or how about their parades? Should we not ban them too because they project wrong image of what human life is about?Besides, they are at higher risk of getting AIDS, sexual diseases and other 'dis-'s because they are exposed to such behavior and their medical bills can be higher than of those who smoke.

If we run discrimination, let's run it in all spheres at full speed because it distorts the cost of health care.

Well, this is what I have to say - in such 'democratic' American society the death penalty is still legal( while EU countries, 'less democratic' have banned it and also have full coverage of health insurance), to be a pervert is okey, but to say it is abnormal is wrong. To smoke is a crime,but use marijuana, go and torture POW is sanctioned by the government and also is okey, because Americans do not implode and lost their sense of distinguishing right from wrong. We are just adversely polite and impudent. And lie and cheat the way out of international law is also okey, because Human Rights is not a given by god, it is a privilege distributed by Corporations that buy their way to heaven through the tax break. Is it not a wonderful country we live in? Time to have a smoke..and I'm out of here.

The employees lied to receive a deduction in health care. The employer had every right to fire them for falsifying documents. $500 off health care is the benefit they offer their employees for not smoking – maybe the employer could have asked them to reimburse them for taking advantage of something they weren’t entitled to, but this is the consequence of not being truthful on a signed document - they fired themselves.

I agree with that, I worked for a company who hired all employee's before who all smoked, I was one of them that was not fitting in since I did not smoke, I was let go I believe for that matter, since the smoke brothered me.

I am glad the new laws are in and yes second hand smoking is bad the company and a person health I worked for they all smoked in the cube are inside each departme that was the most anying thing I had to deal with, and I notice many suffered from cancer and lung problems.

Know I now why so many other companies leave United states they do not want to pay health cost that is eating up the people and our economy with high prices medical expenses that lead Doctors not want to treat with out getting paid first.

I decided not to work since there are so many others still are not walking in spirt they contune to be discriminating and look at what color your skin is if you hispanic they all assume your illigal.

I'm sure that there are hard working smokers out there. I've just never worked with any! In my many years of woring secularly, I never worked with a smoker that didn't take far more time to smoke than was allowed! I hate to work with smokers!

While I'm on my soap box, I hate that many smoke at the front door, even though here it is illegal to do so. I have major allergies and allergy induced asthma. I can't even enter a public building without having to pass through smoke!

Drinking? That is far different. You normally drink on your own time and don't spew it into the air.

Our rights are in place FOR the BETTER good of the majority, not the other way around.

I'll be glad when there are no one on earth smokes. Smokers, their families, and people in general will breathe easier, live longer and healthier lives!

AND, for those who try to say that they no smokers who have lives long lives, I say, perhaps. However, what kind of death awaits them. Ever seen someone die of smoking induced disease? It's not a pretty site, I assure you.

Nuff said, somebody help me down from here...

The smoking issue makes me see red. What if everyone who drank an alcoholic beverage outside of work was fired because of the health care costs associated? There sure wouldn't be many people left to fill those positions. There are many factors to rising health care, smoking is only a small drop in that bucket. The biggest portion of the cost, in my opinion, is GREED. Greed on the part of the large corporations that are running health care facilities to make a profit. Greed of the pharmaceutical companies marking up medications that cost pennies to produce and sometimes do more harm than good. Greed on many levels. What happened to that old 'Golden Rule', you know, the one where we are supposed to treat others the way that we would like to be treated? Maybe if our government could somehow put regulation on these big corporations with that 'Golden Rule' in mind, there would be a trickle down effect that would be reflective in the costs. Other things that needs regulating that effects our health and thus costs, are food additives and environmental issues, things that effect out immune systems. Privacy is worth nothing if we have no quality of life.

Although I am not a smoker, I think that what you do on your own time is your own business. I know plenty of people who visit the doctor's office and call in sick who are nonsmokers. It is unfair to punish people for one bad habit. Nicotine is an addiction, and employers should be willing to help employees get help.

In response to the Ledbetter case, I think it's outrageous that she was receiving unequal pay for equal work. It's a tricky line to hold Goodyear responsible for that by requiring them to pay for damages and whatnot, though.

It's ultimately up to the employee to negotiate a wage they think they're worth. She could have negotiated a higher wage and Goodyear could have offered her a more comparable salary.

Both parties are partially to blame, in my opinion, and it's wrong to force Goodyear to take all that blame.

Well smoking or no smoking should be a personal preferance. If you are of age you can buy them. When you work you can only smoke in designated areas on your break or lunch. After all those who drink don't necessarily follow the rules of law and all other habits etc. Who determines who weighs too much or too less, drinks too much etc. If we went and lived with other people believe you me we could find a lot of faults and habits that we do not like. They don't want us to smoke, take them off the market but also take away the booze and hooked on perscriptions etc. I still believe in the American way - you know "freedom'

Well smoking or no smoking should be a personal preference. If you are of age you can buy them. When you work you can only smoke in designated areas on your break or lunch. After all those who drink don't necessarily follow the rules of law and all other habits etc. Who determines who weighs too much or too less, drinks too much etc. If we went and lived with other people believe you me we could find a lot of faults and habits that we do not like. They don't want us to smoke, take them off the market but also take away the booze and hooked on prescriptions etc. I still believe in the American way - you know "freedom'

I think this is ridiculous, it opens up all channels for all sorts of exclusions: those who smoke, those who are overweight, etc. What then about those that engage in the risky that isn't so obvious? Eating unhealthy, risky sports, sexual practices, etc? It is like they are taking the stance that health insurance is ONLY for the healthy. Most of us work so we can have health insurance and be covered in case we need medical intervention whether it is an injury or a sickness/disease. As humans we are prone to all sorts of things and I don't think the employers or health insurance should be able to ignore those in need due to the dollar cost.

I'm not sure that I particularly agree with the additional cost for smokers versus non-smokers. Even though I concede that it is legal, does that open the door to more personal discrimination such as ethnicity or weight. What about genetic testing? Can an employer decide that you must be screened for any genetic markers that could mean a disease or illness in the future.

However, if the employees answered a questionnaire where they willfully lied to their employer, I have to agree that their actions were wrong.

There is no doubt that there are many factors that play into the rising cost of healthcare. However, smokers already pay a higher cost for not only healthcare insurance, but any insurance at all be it Life, Homeowners, Auto, etc., smokers are paying a high premium for their habit.

My personal and professional opinion is that employers should not have the right to have a disciplinary action toward an employee just because they smoke. If an employee smokes, they are paying the higher insurance premium, if they are smoking on their own time and not company paid time, then the employer does not hold the right to discipline for something of this nature. If we open up this avenue, then your statements "We want you to weigh in. Well, not literally. (Though don’t be surprised if your employer requires you to hop on the scale.) Tell us your thoughts on an employer’s right to know what happens outside of work." could very well become a reality. Think about the big picture, smoking is not one of the only reason for high healthcare costs, such as weight, drinking, lack of insurance, etc., are all driving factors. I have yet to see an over weight employee have to pay a higher premium for insurance like a smoker does. What's next, employee goes into work, and if the allowed weight limit is exceeded after stepping on a required scale, will an employee get suspended or terminated? Let's be realistic here!

When is the line drawn for the right of the employer and the right of the employee if this should be allowed! We need to think about this before it becomes once again, another "out of control" controlled policy!

I think that if you lie about something to get cheaper insurance, it's a reason to get fired.

I also try very hard to be healthy and would like to be rewarded for it. So, being able to pay less for my insurance would be a perk for not smoking. I think that is a great idea. But, it does seem fair that I should pay more for drinking alcohol and eating ice cream. Where does it stop?

I work for myself but not by myself.

Hiring discrimination has been going on for decades, sublte, but prevelant in every sector of the workplace. When my husband lost his high-paying job, I was forced to return to the job market 6 years ago as a 50 year old women after staying home to raise my family. My previous years of work experience, strong work ethic, and strong business skills (qualities most employers would be lucky to get), were overshadowed by my age. The comment I received from one employment agency was, "Oh, you're the women trying to get back into the workplace." I am paying a price for being a stay-at-home mom for 15 years, and I'm still trying to find an employer who is willing to pay me what I am worth in the job market while I continue to work as a temp, with no benefits and a minimal salary. I have been passed over for many permanent job openings within the company where I have been working for the past 5 years, only to see less experienced and less skilled women in their 20's given the opportunity to grow with this company in a position that pays $10-$20,000 more per year than I currently receive, with all the fringe benefits. I feel that I have been discriminated against not only because I am in my 50s, but also how I unfortunately now look in my 50s. I had another agency tell me that they saw me doing "behind the scenes" work, which I found highly offensive. So I feel that smokers who are getting screened and passed over for employement at least have an option to quit smoking in order to get a job. I obviously don't have that option in my situation, I can't turn back the clock, and no one can tell me that age discrimination is not a significant influence in the job market in America today, a fact that remains almost impossible to prove. Smokers have nothing to complain about.

My comments to hiring someone who smokes is really no different than taking a closer look at the way people in general at work that may take additional breaks such eating, smoking, reading, walking etc.

I am a non-smoker and I often cough when a co-worker who just came in from smoking outside. Sometimes it does not make sense. I do not want to suffer from any second hand smoke. I think more companys such have better quality ventilation of air control, but many do not. Smoking in fact does affect the quality of air and the air that we all breath.

Hiring someone who smokes is kind of a form a discrimination. I do not think that a manager should not pass up a job candidate who is qualified to do a job as long as they do not abuse breaks.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

OK.. so what's happens when people who are deemed "morbidly obese" or have a history of cancer, diabetes, etc in their family are turned down for jobs? Don't these health problems increase health costs as well?
Heaven forbid you have a child with a life-threatening illness. Will you then be fired so the company no longer pays for the health care this child will cost the company?
When does this stop?
And no, I am not a smoker.

Regarding the salary inequity across genders, I am infuriated by the 180 day stipulation in filing wage discrimination. Who within 180 days of beginning a new job is privy to the salaries of their colleagues? I'm a proponent of disclosing salaries of colleagues on the same "level." Disclosing such information would hold employer accountable to equality. It doesn't mean that people starting out have to make the same salary as someone who has been in a similar position for five years, as duration with the employer and performance should be a factor in wage increases. Perhaps creating a rubric of factors influencing salary upon hiring - for example $xx starting base, if more than 5 years of relevant experience it is $xx plus $yy, etc. I know there is always hush-hush when it comes to salaries, but that silence and secrecy just provides a screen to hide inequities based on unethical and illegal factors such as gender.

Re: Smoke Screening

Keep in mind, I am a nonsmoker and I'm sure that taints my perspective on this matter. I don't have an issue with smokers. I do, however have an issue with inequity in all forms. I appreciate the "bonus" given in my workplace for nonsmokers or for smokers who commit to a cessation program. I prefer that approach to charging smokers a higher rate of insurance because if we start there, where do we stop? Does that mean that people who are more than 20 lbs overweight should pay more because of the healthcare costs associated with obesity? My fear is that if it starts with things we are in control of (i.e. smoking, alcohol consumption (not dependence), nutrition, etc.) it is only a short time until the cost differential would extend to things we don't have control of (i.e. family history of breast cancer, etc.) On another but related note, the smoking habit impacts the workplace in other ways. Throughout my professional career, it has been evident that colleagues taking "smoke breaks" interferes with productivity and results in others picking up the slack. Granted, in hourly positions there is often a time clock that controls abuse of breaks and all, but in salary positions there is no such control. As an employer, I could see this knowledge influencing my hiring decisions.

I think the idea re: non-smoking is a good one because often smokers also take additional breaks throughout the day when other workers are still working. The smokers use the time to stand around outside, talking and smoking while everyone else is inside doing his or her work. The article I read on your page (about the people being fired because they lied in order to collect a bonus) I thought was a good article. I feel the people got what they deserved because they lied to their employer. In addition, I feel that smokers are not as productive as non-smokers. They stand in front of the building polluting the air because they have a unhealthy habit that they refuse to take action to control or quit. They don't seem to care if they stink up the air, other people's clothing or hair and in general, I feel it is a very selfish and unhealthy habit. Obviously, I am not a smoker.

Upon reading this article though something else occurred to me. In the article, it said it was factory workers who were fired. It would be interesting if they enforced a rule like this at an investment bank and if men, particularly those in management positions who are smokers would wind up fired. I think this company that fired the factory workers was able to do so because they are probably people who earn low wages, might perhaps be unskilled or have limited educations. It is a shame though that people waste their money on cigars and cigarettes when you think of all the more positive things that they could spend their money on to improve their lives.

My assistant and secretary smoke. It bothers me to no end. When they go outside to smoke (sometimes up to six times a day), my day is interrupted to answer phones and deal with customers. It may not bother me so much but sometimes they go when I'm in the middle of a phone call (therefore not able to answer the other lines) or in a meeting. You would think they would know better.

What next, the color of your hair, your height and
weight. Do you drink, do you eat three healthy meals a day, how much water do you drink?

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