The latest trend in legalized discrimination is against health care workers who smoke, as The New York Times points out in a recent article.
It's totally understandable for a hospital not to allow smoking on its property. After all, the property belongs to the hospital, and many hospitals are "public." As a proponent of property rights, I'd agree that only the owners of a property should be able to make that decision.
And it's understandable for an employer to conduct pre-employment tests for illegal drugs and prescription drug use for which the applicant has no prescription. After all, these people are lawbreakers, and employers would be right not to want to hire them.
But this is where employers must end their discrimination.
To not hire a worker who chooses to use a legal product is wrong. While a hospital, or any property owner for that matter, should be free to make decisions on what may take place on private property, it doesn't own the bodies of its employees. What employees do legally on their own time is no business of any employer.
Otherwise, we are taking a big step on a slippery slope with no clear end.
What about people who use salt or sugar? Will prospective employees eventually be forced to give a sample in a cup to make sure they're under some predetermined limit? Will they be subjected to a body mass index test?
Will we start to hear claims of "secondhand obesity" -- the danger of obese people making their nonobese friends gain weight?
It reminds me of a 1988 John Carpenter movie in which a drifter finds a pair of sunglasses that allows him to see the subliminal signs everywhere that say "conform," "obey," "be healthy."
Supporters of this kind of workplace discrimination argue that companies are within their rights because smokers cause lost productivity and boost health care costs.
But if lost productivity and health costs are the reason for discriminating against smokers, why shouldn't this calculation apply to, say, women of child-bearing years? After all, with each and every child she delivers, a woman can take 12 weeks of maternity leave. And each time one of her children is sick, she will take off work to care for that child. That's lost productivity.
Who costs a company more? The younger nonsmoking woman or the non-child-bearing smoker?
And when it comes to medical costs, every child adds to insurance costs borne by everyone else in the company. Most insurance companies provide either single or family coverage. The size of the family doesn't determine the cost of family coverage. Isn't that an extra burden on health care costs?
Should we let companies ban the hiring of young women? Should we only hire people over the age of 50? Of course not!
Using these standards against hiring smokers merely opens the door into further intrusion in our lives, regulating what we do legally by threat of withholding employment.
There's another problem with this approach. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the smoking prevalence among adults in the United States in 2006 was 20.8 percent, or 45.3 million people. To deny employment to many talented workers merely because they use a legal product would put extreme hardship on families from loss of employment (or denial of employment) and lack of health care coverage.
And it would mean that, in many cases, a less-qualified person would be doing the job that could have been done by a more-qualified smoker.
Personally, I'd rather have the skilled and acclaimed heart surgeon who smokes attending to me than the nonsmoking second-rate one. I don't know of anyone who would disagree.
Friday, February 11, 2011
Source: Aol News