Discrimination at Work:  A Warning to Employers

Discrimination at Work: A Warning to Employers

Our company recently came out with a change to our benefit structure.  Instead of paying for each employee’s complete health insurance premium, the employees are now going to cost share and pay $50 per month for coverage.   In the breath following this announcement, our CFO unveiled a new benefit for employees – a credit of $50 per month for any employee that signs a No Smoking Statement.

Initially I didn’t think much of it; I was just pleased my net balance would be the same.  However, the more I pondered this policy change, the more concerned I became.   My concern was not due to any worry that my employer would find out I am a closet smoker.  I do not smoke, nor do I intend to start smoking.   I am not concerned with my employer telling me that I cannot smoke while at work or even while representing my company.

My concern stems from my belief that a company should not penalize (vary benefits for) employees based upon what they choose to do on their own time.  If I choose to skydive on the weekends, will I get less money than my peers?  If I am a single person and therefore more likely to contract an STD, will I be docked pay?  How about if I am at risk for contracting HIV?

All of these scenarios reek of discrimination to me.  Our culture accepts that smoking is bad and therefore we don’t think much about No Smoking statements.  However, when you take it a step further, is this really a path we want to tread?

Wikipedia defines discrimination as a sociological term referring to the treatment taken toward or against a person of a certain group in consideration based solely on class or category. Discrimination is the actual behavior towards another group. It involves excluding or restricting members of one group from opportunities that are available to other groups.

I think our new policy is discriminatory.   I recognize that smokers are not a protected class and therefore this is not legally actionable discrimination.  But, it is excluding a category of people (smokers) from an opportunity ($50/mo) that is available to others.  The same argument that is being proposed here for why smokers should pay more (due to potentially higher health insurance claims) could be applied to any person that engages in sports in their free time.

What do you think?  Would you sign it?

2 Responses to Discrimination at Work: A Warning to Employers

  1. “Discrimination” would be firing an employee for smoking. Recouping the healthcare costs associated with people who smoke is not “discriminatory,” it’s called “underwriting” and it’s been around since the beginning of insurance.

    • I agree that smokers do not qualify as a protected class and therefore this policy is legal. However, I am really struggling with the idea that choices made on an employee’s own time are any of a company’s business. I can see it as a foot in the door for ever more invasive policies….

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