"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please." (Mark Twain)
Monday, October 31, 2005
More and more that cigarette, or drink at home, that political candidate you supported, even your eating habits, are coming under the scrutiny of your boss.
If he doesn’t approve, it might even cost you your job, which is what happened to two Michigan women, Anita Epolito and Cara Stiffler.
Anita and Cara were considered model employees at Weyco, an insurance consulting firm outside of Lansing, Mich., both having worked at the company for years. The women sat side-by-side, sharing workloads – and after work – sharing the occasional cigarette.
But at a company benefits meeting two years ago, the company president announced, "As of January 1st, 2005, anyone that has nicotine in their body will be fired,” Anita remembers. “And we sat there in awe. And I spoke out at that time. ‘You can't do that to us’ And then he said, ‘Yes, I can.’ I said, ‘That's not legal.’ And he came back with, ‘Yes, it is.’”
And it was legal: in Michigan, there’s no law that prevents a boss from firing people virtually at will. At Weyco, that meant no smoking at work, no smoking at home, no smoking period....
“I pay the bills around here. So, I'm going to set the expectations,” says Howard Weyers, the boss and some would say tyrant of Weyco. “What's important? This job? And this is a very nice place to work. Or the use of tobacco? Make a decision...."
“You didn't feel any sympathy at all for them?” [60 Minutes' Morley] Safer asked Weyers. “No, because I gave them plenty of time to make a decision. A number of their co-workers quit the habit,” he replied....
What it is really about is money. ‘Big Business’ is increasingly nosing into your business, trying to cut the costs of their business. And the easiest targets are smokers.
Really obese people, whose healthcare is among the costliest, are protected by federal law. But thousands of companies and countless municipal governments and police departments refuse to hire smokers, and some require affidavits, and even use lie detector tests to enforce the policy....
Says Weyers, “The biggest frustration in the workplace is the cost of healthcare. Medical plans weren't established to pay for unhealthy lifestyles.”
Weyers admits he never really measured how much the smokers he once employed cost him and acknowledged it may not have cost him anything....
Weyers wouldn’t back down, even when he learned that Anita wasn’t on his health plan.
Weyers, a former college football coach, works out five times a week and wants his employees to share his values. At Weyco, Howard rules. “I set the policy and I’m not going to bend from the policy,” says Weyers.
“But, it strikes me as a kind of intolerant attitude to the habits, foibles, eccentricities of other people,” said Safer. “Right. I would say I'm intolerable,” Weyers replied.
“Intolerable and intolerant,” Safer responded. “I am. But I just can’t be flexible on the policy,” says Weyers.
"Intolerable" is exactly the right word.