Jun 11, 2007
In an irony of timing, a pair of bills addressing smoking will get a hearing Tuesday before two separate Michigan House committees as the person who prompted one of them is set to speak to the Livingston Area Human Resources Association at 7:30 a.m. June 20 at the Genoa Woods Executive Conference Center.
As you may recall, Howard Weyers, CEO of Okemos-based Weyco Inc., launched a tobacco-free mandate at the company in 2003, and when three of his employees could not kick the most addictive substance known to mankind, he fired them. Now, these three employees practiced the legal habit of smoking off the job during non-working hours, yet in an Orwellan twist straight of “Nineteen Eight-Four” they were still fired.
It makes you wonder what type of behavior Big Brother will try to control next, and how he will know if you are violating the new policy. I am one of the worst kind of anti-smoking crusaders, a former smoker who quit the habit more than 11 years ago, but the obvious question has to be when is an employee’s life his own? I think Weyers should reward those who quit smoking and keep healthy, fit and in shape by having them pay less for medical coverage, but if what Weyers is doing is not illegal it should be. What you do in your own home that does not hurt anyone else should be no one’s business but your own.
Help, however, is on the way, and the House Labor Committee-chaired by Rep. Fred Miller, D-Mount Clemens – will take testimony on House Bill 4532, introduced by Rep. Lee Gonzales, D-Flint, on March 27. The bill, known as the "Employee Privacy Protection Act,” would prohibit an employer from “taking certain adverse actions against an individual who is engaging in –or is regarded as engaging in—a lawful activity both off the employer's premises and during non-work hours,” such as smoking. This will outlaw high-handed decisions like the one Weyers made.
Sen. Ray Basham (D-Taylor) will be testifying before the House Commerce Committee Tuesday, chaired by Rep. Andy Meisner, D-Ferndale, on his smoke-free workplace legislation, which would ban smoking in all workplaces, including bars and restaurants. It seems amazing that Weyers can fire people for smoking at home during non-work hours, yet there is no law in place that bars people from smoking at their public workplace. Amazing.
Basham introduced this version of his bill, Senate Bill 109 on Jan. 30. He first introduced the exact same legislation two years ago, but it died when the 2005-2006 session ended on Dec. 31. The bill has not even been able to get a hearing in committee in the Republican-controlled Senate after some three years. The House committee is actually taking testimony on the House version of the bill, HB 4163, introduced by Rep. Brenda Clack, D-Flint, on Jan. 30. Hopefully, the House version will finally make the obstructionist Senate act, but if past history is any indicator it will meet the same fate of many other bills sent to the Senate - many passed by the Republicans when they controlled the House last year - and die without ever getting a fair hearing.
Let’s hope not.