Jun 21, 2007

House Bill aims to put a stop to unfair Big Brother-like practice

Big Brother made a stop in Livingston County to try and sell local human resource professionals on his highhanded policy of firing employees for engaging in a legal activity away from the job on their own time.

Howard Weyers, CEO of Okemos-based Weyco Inc., spoke to the Livingston Area Human Resources Association. He 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. Apparently, he gives his employees tests to check for the presence of nicotine. No word yet on if he plans to install some kind of smoke detectors in their homes to be more efficient, so that way he can nail smoking spouses and other relatives. This is just one more assault on the rights of workers.

Weyers defends his discriminatory practice by saying he takes a proactive approach to health care because it costs more to insure smokers because of the health risks associated with smoking. “Employees are also told to take biometrics and physical evaluations and, if they don't reach certain goals, they have to meet with a coach more frequently.”

This sounds exactly like the quarterly physical fitness tests I had to take when I was in the military. I don’t equate a third-party medical benefits administrator to the military, and at least the military allows the legal activity of smoking. I applaud Weyers’s efforts to promote physical fitness and healthy living, but most people use a carrot and stick approach. All I see is a big stick. Cleary, an incentive program would be much more fair.

The good news is that help is on the way to stop Weyers. Last week the House Labor Committee heard testimony on House Bill 4532, introduced by Rep. Lee Gonzales, D-Flint. 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.

According to the Livingston County Press & Argus, Weyers said he wishes legislators would be more open to his policy, especially considering the state is contemplating a ban on smoking in restaurants. He says if everybody were to live a healthier lifestyle, overall medical costs would come down and there would be less money coming out of employees' paychecks for medical benefits.

I agree to point. The smoking ban he is referring to is Senate Bill 109, introduced by Sen. Ray Basham, D-Taylor, that bans smoking from all workplaces, including bars and restaurants. Basham has been pushing the fight against second hand smoke that kills more 50,000 people a year for the entire decade he has been in the Legislature, but he has only gotten one hearing and no vote in that decade while the Republicans then controlled both the House and Senate. There is finally some movement in the House now that the Democrats are in the majority there on House Bill 4163, the House version introduced by Rep. Brenda Clack, D-Flint.

This is a case of the chicken and the egg. How can Weyers defend his policy when it is not even illegal to smoke in the workplace, let alone your own home? The workplace ban must come first before Weyers’s policy can even be suggested. However, any legal activity you do in the privacy of your own home should never be grounds for dismissal.

Here’s even more irony. The biggest opponent of Basham’s bill is the Michigan Restaurant Association, and that opposition is coming from its board not its members. Subscription only MIRS reported last week that Senate Republicans held a one-day, mini-retreat off-campus to talk about the current budget. I have no idea what’s wrong with the Senate Republican caucus room, but they chose to hold it off site. Guess where? With Senate Republicans sitting on Basham’s bill despite mounting evidence illustrating the health hazard of second-hand smoke and support for the bill the Senate GOP held their caucus in the Michigan Restaurant Association’s new building.

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