A Massachusetts smoker is suing the Scotts lawn care company for firing him after he tested positive for nicotine. Scott Rodrigues claims the company violated his privacy and his civil rights when it enforced its policy against smoking on or off the job. Scotts, which is self-insured, says the policy is aimed at controlling its health care costs.
As I've said before, a private company should be able to hire whomever it wants on whatever terms are mutually acceptable. No one has a right to a job, let alone a job on terms that he alone dictates. Rodrigues is especially unsympathetic because he knew about the no-smoking policy and agreed to abide by it when he started working for Scotts.
His lawyer warns of a slippery slope: "Next they're going to say, 'You don't get enough exercise' or 'Both your parents died of a heart attack at age 45 so we don't want to hire you because you're more likely to need medical care.' " It's worth noting that the prospect of increasingly intrusive health-related demands by cost-conscious employers is plausible mainly because of the artificial link between employment and health insurance created by a tax policy that favors health coverage over extra cash as a way of attracting employees. If this distortion of the job and health care markets were rectified, employers would be less likely to care about their workers' risky off-the-job habits (unless they affected job performance). But given that companies do end up paying for their employees' health care, I don't see why they should be legally compelled to ignore employee characteristics that raise those costs.
[Thanks to Paul Strigler for the link.]