LANSING (AP) — A Michigan company’s decision to show the door to workers who smoke, even if it’s on their own time, has alarmed privacy and workers’ rights advocates and raised concerns about whether pizza boxes and six packs are the next to go. Okemos-based Weyco Inc., a medical benefits administrator, said its offer of smoking cessation classes and support groups helped 18 to 20 of the company’s nearly 200 workers quit smoking over the past 15 months. But the four who couldn’t — or wouldn’t — no longer had jobs on Jan. 1. “We had told them they had a choice, and they chose to leave basically before the policy took effect,” said Weyco chief financial officer Gary Climes. “We’re not saying you can’t smoke in your home. We just say you can’t smoke and work here.” Such policies basically say employers can tell workers how to live their lives even in the privacy of their own homes, something they have no business doing, said Lewis Maltby, president of The National Workrights Institute in Princeton, N.J., a part of the American Civil Liberties Union until 2000. “If a company said, ‘We’re going to cut down on our health care costs by forbidding anyone from eating at McDonald’s,’ they could do it,” he said. “There are a thousand things about people’s private lives that employers don’t like for a thousand different reasons.” Some companies, while not going as far as Weyco, are trying to lower their health care costs by refusing to hire any more smokers. Union Pacific Corp. began rejecting smokers’ applications in Texas, Idaho, Tennessee, Arkansas, Washington state, Arizona and parts of Kansas and Nebraska last year and hopes to add more states. On July 1, it will make all Union Pacific property smoke-free, including trains, a policy that now applies only to its company headquarters in Omaha, Neb. Public affairs director John Bromley said the company estimates it will save $922 annually for each position it fills with a nonsmoker over one who smokes. It hired 5,500 new workers last year and plans to hire 700 this year. About a quarter of the company’s 48,000 employees now smoke, and Bromley said it’s clear they cost the company more money. “Looking at our safety records, (we know that) people who smoke seem to have higher accident rates than nonsmokers,” he said. “It’s no secret that people who smoke have more health issues than nonsmokers.” On Jan. 1, Kalamazoo Valley Community College stopped hiring smokers for full-time positions at both of its Michigan campuses. Part-time staffers who smoke won’t be hired for full-time jobs, and the 20 to 25 openings that occur each year among the college’s 365 full-time staff positions will go only to nonsmokers. “Our No. 1 goal is to reduce our health claims,” said Sandy Bohnet, vice president for human resources. “Research tends to show that tobacco users lose more time from work. … So many diseases can be headed off if people simply pay attention to their health care.” Some states protect workers who smoke, saying they can’t be discriminated against for that reason. But Michigan is one of 22 states that doesn’t have such a law, according to the Washington-based Bureau of National Affairs. Michigan lawmakers passed a bill protecting smokers about 10 years ago, but it was vetoed by then-Gov. John Engler, said ACLU of Michigan spokeswoman Wendy Wagenheim. Climes said many companies try to hold down health care costs by increasing copays and deductibles charged to employees. But that doesn’t decrease their health care needs.

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