Scotts Miracle-Gro Co. is getting militant with their employees who smoke. Simply put, quit by next fall or else:
Scotts Miracle-Gro Co. is taking its campaign to stamp out smoking among its workers to an unusual length: It’s threatening to fire smokers beginning next fall.
The threat represents the latest attempt by an employer to try to reduce health-care costs by targeting smokers. In January, four employees at Weyco Inc., a small medical-benefits administrator in Okemos, Mich., lost their jobs after they refused to be tested for tobacco use.
With medical expenses rising, corporations are increasingly focusing on the employees who they believe account for the majority of health-care costs.
Some companies have tried to lower the number of smokers in their work force by offering employees help with money and counseling to quit smoking. In April, Humana Inc., a health insurer in Louisville, Ky., asked its employees if they had used tobacco in the previous 12 months. Those who said they hadn’t got a $5 bonus in their paychecks each pay period. General Mills Inc. imposes a $20 a month surcharge on the health benefits of smokers.
Weyco announced a tobacco-free policy in September 2003. It used a device similar to a Breathalyzer to test for tobacco use. In January 2005, four of its 190 employees chose not to take the test and were forced to leave.
Scotts offers to pay for smoking-cessation programs and products. But the October ultimatum “is way over the top by today’s standards,” said Helen Darling, the president of the National Business Group on Health, a coalition of major corporations. “Most employers are still in the mode of ‘You’ve got to have positive incentives.'”
Firing workers who won’t stop smoking is illegal in the 30 states that have laws protecting smokers, according to the National Workrights Institute, a not-for-profit organization that focuses on human rights in the workplace. But elsewhere, unless workers fall in one of a few protected classifications defined by state and federal laws, employers have more leeway.
Smokers who are “really trying” to quit, even after the deadline, won’t have to worry, said Jim Hagedorn, Scotts’ chief executive. “If you work with us, and we know you’re working with us, I don’t think you’re going to end up getting fired.”
The tobacco initiative is part of a broad wellness program that includes a $5 million fitness gym and health clinic opened last month near the company’s headquarters. Employees on the company’s medical plan will have free access in the clinic to a physician, nurse practitioners, diet and fitness experts and a pharmacy with generic drugs.
In return, employees will face a strict annual requirement: Take a health assessment through a program affiliated with the medical-information Web site WebMD Health Corp. – or pay $40 extra a month in health-care costs.
It makes sense that employers who bear significant costs of employee health benefits should be able to actively discourage unhealthy behaviours. The reader will also note that the smoking ban is only part of a more “activist” approach to managing their employees’ health, which includes fitness and nutrition consultation (homework?), and a free gym.
Of course, as is always the case in civil liberties arguments, where should the line be drawn? Smoking? Obesity? Alcohol abuse? Promiscuity? Motocross?
Link to the article in the Winston-Salem Journal [The journal’s title refers to the regions of North Carolina which it serves, not the brands of cigarettes, which get their name from the same source.]