You can’t smoke if you’re pregnant. You can’t smoke in your non-smoking friends’ homes. Now you can’t smoke in bars in New York. Now you can’t smoke EVER; if you want a job, that is. Let me confess: I hate smoking. I hate the smell of it and I throw fits when my boyfriend smokes a cigarette when he’s out with his friends. But despite my aversion to this habit, I am thoroughly disturbed by the news that Michigan employers can fire employees for smoking outside of work.
That’s right. You didn’t smoke during your shift, or even on your unpaid lunch break. You smoked Saturday night, in a bar, out with friends…and on Monday morning they fired your smoky ass because a company squeal told the Boss that you disrespected your lungs. Did you know that this practice is entirely legal?
Weyco, Inc., a Michigan health insurance and benefits company, has a policy that forbids its employees to smoke, inside or outside of the workplace. Even for a health insurance company, this just doesn’t line up for me. What new restrictions on employees could we find around the corner? Next company employees will be expected to abstain from sex unless said interactions are between legally married spouses. And although the above policy should make it pretty clear [since gay couples may not be legally wed in this country] company employees will be expected to abstain from sexual interaction of a same-sex nature. Oh, company employees might soon be expected to abstain from alcohol too, because it’s not good for the liver, or the medical bills. What else could they demand? Fidelity? Religiosity? Good credit?
What we’re talking about here is a question of civil liberties. Unlike The State News, I don’t think that “good business sense” justifies discrimination. Virg Bernero, D-Lansing, has proposed a bill that would prevent the Weyco, Inc. incident from recurring by making it illegal for employers to pink-slip their workers for engaging in legal activities outside of the workplace. The bottom line is that what we all do in our homes is our business. That’s called privacy, and in a world where our identities fly around in digital space for all to catch, we need to enforce it.
I expect that right-wing senators will oppose Bernero’s bill because they’ll say that they want small government; that the law should not be imposed on small businesses. But what happens if enough small businesses enforce policies like Weyco Inc.’s, and incidents like the one I’m griping about start happening left and right? If employers keep stripping civil liberties away, who knows- smokers, occasional drinkers, atheists, gays and lesbians- even you, may be out of a job.
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