A bill pending in the Indiana state Senate Committee on Pensions and Labor would allow private employers to terminate workers for using cigarettes and tobacco products during their free time.
Senate Bill 23, introduced by state Sen. Liz Brown (R-Fort Wayne) in January, would repeal a 1991 law prohibiting private employers from requiring abstinence from tobacco outside of work as a condition of employment.
Referred to as the Smokers’ Bill of Rights, the law also prohibits employers from treating tobacco users differently from others when setting “compensation and benefits, or terms and conditions.” Twenty-eight other states have similar employment protections for tobacco users.
The committee has not scheduled a hearing for the bill.
Questions Reasons for Intrusion
Aeon Skoble, a professor of philosophy at Bridgewater State University and a policy advisor for The Heartland Institute, which publishes Budget & Tax News, says people’s legal leisure activities shouldn’t matter to their employers.
“It’s hard to see what an employer’s interest is in making sure that none of her employees have a cigar on Saturday night,” Skoble said. “On the one hand, private employers should have broad leeway to dismiss employees, and certainly if your company’s policy is nonsmoking, it could be appropriate to fire someone for smoking on the job, but it is not consistent with the spirit of liberty for the employer to have that level of interest in what you’re doing outside of work.”
‘Bigotry and Hatred’
Christopher Snowdon, director of lifestyle economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs, says governments are a major source of anti-tobacco agitation.
“There is a great deal of bigotry and hatred towards smokers in present-day America, much of which is deliberately fomented by the government,” Snowdon said. “The repeal of the Indiana legislation would send out a message that smokers should be discriminated against. In practice, it will not only be cigarette smokers who are penalized, but those who consume any form of nicotine, because the only thing you can test for is nicotine in the bloodstream or urine.”
‘Big Brother-ish Impulses’
Off-duty tobacco-use protections balance competing interests and rights, Skoble says.
“Laws such as the so-called Smokers’ Bill of Rights are probably a useful corrective to the Big Brother-ish impulses that are all too common in today’s society,” Skoble said. “As a general rule, I am not comfortable with the government telling employers how to run their businesses, but a lot of discrimination is actually fostered by government in the first place. Laws like this might encourage employers to think twice about engaging in discrimination based on non-work-related criteria.”
Skoble says workers should be judged on their work, not their personal lives.
“Employers should be basing personnel decisions on work-related criteria,” Skoble said. “Would it be appropriate to dismiss an employee for getting a cocktail after work, for eating meat, for watching too much television, for voting third-party, or for interfaith marriage?”
Editor’s Note: This article was published in partnership with The Heartland Institute’s Budget & Tax News newspaper. BTN’s managing editor is Jesse Hathaway and BTN’s senior editor is S.T. Karnick.
Jeff Reynolds (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes from Portland, Oregon.