Recently, a Whirlpool Corporation factory in Indiana suspended thirty-nine workers who had signed statements claiming that the workers did not use tobacco products but who were seen on company property smoking or chewing tobacco. The employees apparently signed the statements to avoid paying the extra $500 in annual health insurance premiums the company charges employees who smoke or who use tobacco products. While no one would argue that a company cannot or should not encourage its employees to engage in healthy behaviors, how far can a company go in regulating its employees’ off-duty legal behaviors?
Advocates for employers argue that employers have the right to adjust health care premium contributions according to employees’ smoking status because of the greater costs associated with providing health care to smokers and overall rising health care costs.
Advocates for employees argue that allowing employers to discriminate against employees based upon the employees’ private lifestyle choices could lead to employers excluding people from the workforce who have unhealthy habits but who are otherwise capable. Further, advocates argue that allowing employers to make employment decisions based upon legal off-duty behavior permits employers to control employees’ personal, private lives—contrary to a free society.
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