Where There's Smoke, There's Fired Weyco Employees

By Robert Paul Reyes
Feb. 11, 2005

On Jan. 1, Weyco Inc., a Michigan health benefits administrator, went smoke free. As a company in the health industry, it set a good example by demonstrating concern for the health of its employees.

But this no-smoking policy goes way beyond the world of cubicles. Weyco employees who smoke, even in the privacy and sanctity of their homes, will be fired. The company now performs random testing to ensure compliance with its draconian policy. Four of Weyco's 200 workers were fired for refusing to take a test to determine if they had been smoking.

Weyco goes to extreme measures to protect the health of its employees, but it callously tramples all over their civil rights. Weyco's no- smoking policy is clearly unconstitutional and its only a matter of time before the ACLU steps in and scares Weyco into abandoning their policy, right?

Unfortunately, it's perfectly legal, Michigan is one of 29 states that have so-called "at will" employment laws. That means employees can be fired for virtually any reason or no reason at all. Your employer doesn't like your combover -- "You're Fired." Your boss takes exception to your cameltoe -- "Your'e Fired."

In these "right to work" states, employees have no legal recourse if they are summarily dismissed. As long as an employee is not fired because of his ethnic heritage, sexual orientation ,disability or gender -- he doesn't have a case.

Yes, smoking causes serious health maladies like emphysema, heart problems and cancer, but so does obesity. Will Weyco make its employees weigh in every morning, and fire them if they gain a few pounds? Unsafe sex is also a danger to one's health, will Weyco test its employees for STD's? Let's snuff out this insanity now.

Thank heavens, at least one Michigan lawmaker is doing more than just blowing smoke. State Sen. Virg Bernero will introduce a bill that would prevent Michigan employers for firing or refusing to hire workers for legal activities they do on their own time.

I would go a step further than Sen. Bernero; I believe that employers should be prevented for firing or refusing to hire workers for legal or illegal activities they do on their own time. If I want to smoke a joint while watching the Brady Bunch, it should be nobody's business, but my own -- as long as it doesn't effect my work performance.

I commend State Sen. Bernero for his bill and I hope it becomes the law in Michigan, but Weyco is not the only company that behaves like Big Brother. The underlying problem is the "at will" work law that allows companies to behave like they are headquartered in Siberia.

Legal experts say the only reason state Legislatures don't put a stop to at-will laws is there is no strong lobbying effort to abolish them. Hopefully, this will light a fire under organizations that fight for the rights of workers.


About the author: Robert Paul Reyes is a columnist for the Lynchburg Ledger.

Email: rreyes4966@aol.com

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