If you’re in love with unhealthy foods or other unhealthy things such as smoking you may just find yourself out of a job. A sweeping trend is creeping up on America through employers and insurance companies. The cat is out of the bag, if you’re a smoker you have a target on your head for being unhealthy and are at risk of losing your job or paying steep monthly fines and penalties.
The first notice of this trend started specifically with smokers. Everyone can probably remember all the questions on insurance forms about your personal habits. Not too long ago answers to these questions logically increased insurance rates for individuals. Now that health care costs are sky rocketing for companies as well as the individual extreme measures are being taken by employers across the country. The things that you do outside of your 9 to 5 are now your company’s business and they’re doing all kinds of things to find out what exactly it is you do that’s unhealthy or unwise. This scrutinizing is a direct result of employers trying to reduce their health care costs.
Privacy advocates are up in arms and people are starting to speak out against this new industry trend. It’s not only current employees that are feeling the sting but potential employees, applicants for any job are being turned down because they smoke, they’re obese or have other health ailments. The list of check off items to deem an employee or potential employee as a bad apple are things like smoking, blood pressure, blood glucose levels, body mass and bad cholesterol levels.
Typically most people turn a blind eye to the harsh regulations, taxes and penalties passed on to smokers since most agree it’s an unhealthy choice. However, the check list is growing for what is deemed unhealthy and more and more people are being flagged as potential hazards in regards to health insurance coverage and workplace health. Jeremy Gruber, legal director for National Workrights Institute in Princeton, New Jersey states, “we’re only seeing the beginning of this. Employers started with smokers. Now they’re moving on to the general population.” If you like donuts or have a guilty pleasure for a McDonald’s double cheeseburger you will most likely find yourself in the future battling high scrutiny by your employer and health insurance company.
Companies are not just doing pre-employment screening for illegal drugs now but all kinds of bad habits and health ailments. A growing list of companies are very open about their strict standards. The Cleveland Clinic has openly admitted that starting September 1st, 2007 if pre-employment screening finds nicotine in a potential employees system they will immediately be denied employment. A company called Clarian Health has sent notifications to it’s large pool of employees letting them know that starting in 2009 employees will be charged $5 per paycheck if they are found using tobacco. The charges don’t end there. Clarian has also stated that if tests show the employee has abnormal levels of cholesterol, blood pressure and a growing list of other tests they will be charged $5 on each paycheck for each occurrence of those criteria.
It’s only a small percentage of employers throughout the U.S. that are taking these questionable measures to force their employees to do what they deem healthy. The trend is growing and many are becoming alarmed at the spread of penalties that are being announced through employee newsletters and pay period information slips. Some employers start out small by offering incentives for their employees to be more healthy. After the employees get used to that they decide to up the ante and try charging fees and firing. One such company drew a barrage of news coverage when it fired 4 employees who smoked cigarettes. It was decided that Weyco Incorporated in Lansing, Michigan had the right to fire the employees. Weyco decided to increase the pressure recently by expanding the rules of employees under their health plan. Now not only can employees incur $50 per paycheck fees but they can also incur these fees if their spouse smokes too.
As frustrating as it is for some employees, most lawyers admit that it’s a tough battle to go against these rules and regulations. People that follow the health care insurance industry and watch company trends admit that the desire to cut health care costs is increasing quickly as companies are absorbing as much as double digit increases in health care expenses and premiums. “The more that health care costs rise, the more you will see more defined penalties in the workplace for unhealthy activities.” states John Lender of the Winterbark Health Association.
Privacy advocates are taking note of the startling trend and are asking questions. Where does the scrutinizing end? Can you be fined for eating fast food, donuts and visiting the local tavern? If the actions of companies show anything the clear answer is that may come sooner than you think. It’s not hard to forget actions of past notable employers.’
It wasn’t long ago when the well known Henry Ford enacted his own health and life choice screenings throughout his entire company. In fact, Ford went as far as sending in investigators into employees homes to ask them questions about diet, drinking, gambling and other questionable habits and preferences. If employees answered the wrong way they were added to a blacklist and let go from the Ford Company within months of their admissions. It didn’t take long for negative publicity to grip Ford for his actions and he later shut down the investigative operation.
History usually repeats itself but this time the trend seems to be coming back with a vengeance. The leading factor is now the quick rise in health care costs and employers are tired of footing the bill.
If you’re a smoker and you’ve felt the negative push in your workplace we’d like to hear from you. Whether you’ve been fired, fined or chastised we want to know. The trend is going beyond just smoking and is touching everything from obesity to blood test results. If you’re feeling the push and want to talk about it tell us your story.