Wednesday, January 26, 2005

New Twist on Workplace Discrimination

Quit Smoking or Quit Your Job, U.S. Company Says.

Snip: The owner of a Michigan company who forced his employees to either quit smoking or quit their jobs said on Wednesday he also wants to tell fat workers to lose weight or else. The workers refused to take a mandatory urine test demanded of Weyco's 200 employees by founder and sole owner Howard Weyers, a demand that he said was perfectly legal. "If you don't want to take the test, you can leave," Weyers told Reuters. "I'm not controlling their lives; they have a choice whether they want to work here." Next on the firing line: overweight workers. "We have to work on eating habits and getting people to exercise. But if you're obese, you're (legally) protected," Weyers said.

Job placement specialist John Challenger said Weyco's moves could set a precedent for larger companies -- if it survives potential legal challenges. "Certainly it raises an interesting boundary issue: rising health care costs and society's aversion to smoking versus privacy and freedom rights of an individual," Challenger said. So far no legal challenges have been made to Weyco's policies.

For the record, I'm a non-smoker who grew up with a heavy smoking mother and I do harbor some resentment at being forced to suck down someone else's 2nd hand smoke. I do advocate making restaurants and bars either entirely non-smoking or entirely smoking. Or creating little mini-fume hoods for smokers to wear so their smoke only bothers them. But I don't know how I feel about this interesting development. Companies that encourage their employees to live more healthy lifestyles, and reward them for doing so.... OK that could be good. But firing others who don't want to buy in? That bugs me. It will be interesting to see what legal challenges come of this.

The whole thing really reeks of Henry Ford's old tactics. Henry was an industrial dictator - a known anti-Semite and union buster who had a taste for controlling the lives of his employees. Known later for the revolutionary idea that his own employees should be able to afford the very product he produced, he instituted the $5 wage for the 8 hr. workday. This has been lauded for decades as a noble sentiment, until you look more deeply into his employment practices and realize that he held his workers in very low esteem, and went to great lengths to control how his employees spent those seemingly generous wags. In fact, he created a special "Sociological Dept." that was charged with spying, counseling and correcting the personal and financial habits of his employees. It was not unusual for known smokers or drinkers to be fired on the spot.

Snip: "Each investigator, equipped with a car, a driver, and an interpreter was assigned a district in Detroit... each worker was expected to furnish information on his marital status, the number and ages of his dependents, and his nationality, religion, and (if alien) prospects of citizenship.... Did he own his home? If so, how large was the mortgage? If he rented a domicile, what did he pay? Was he in debt, and to whom? How much money had he save, and where did he keep it? ... His social outlook and mode of living also came under scrutiny. His health? His doctor? His recreations? The investigator meanwhile looked about sharply, if unobtrusively, so that he could report on "habits," "home conditions," and "neighborhood." Before he left a given family, he knew whether its diet was adequate; whether it took in boarders - an evil practice which he was to discourage; and whether money was being sent abroad.

"Ford employees were classified into four groups: those fully qualified; those excluded under the basic rules upon age, length of service, and so on; those disqualified by bad personal habits; and those debarred by unsatisfactory home conditions allied with improper habits. Though a moderate resort to liquor was not forbidden, "excessive use" came under the ban. So did gambling. So did "any malicious practice derogatory to good physical manhood or moral character." A household dirty, frowzy, and comfortless; an unwholesome diet; a destruction of family privacy by boarders; an excessive expenditure on foreign relatives - these were among the reasons for condemnation."

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