Gone are the days when smoking was an accepted practice in the workplace. In today’s society we see a few solitary figures who take their breaks and smoke outside their workplace during the work day. Employees who smoke are either huddled together in designated smoking areas or forced to stand on the other side of the workplace boundaries in order to have that much needed cigarette. With these visual displays as proof there is no doubt that employees who smoke have a costly impact on workplace productivity.
Everybody knows that smoking is an addiction loaded with severe health-related risks. These risks include the development of heart disease and cancer. Most employers in Canada offer health care benefits to employees to assist them in covering medical costs for these types of catastrophic illnesses.
Should employees who smoke be penalized for increasing group health care costs as a result of developing smoking-related diseases?
Should employees who smoke be penalized for having a negative impact on a productivity-based bottom line?
Both of these questions are loaded with complex and potentially negative consequences for the employer and employees alike.
A company in the United States has implemented a smoking cessation program that rewards employees who stop smoking and penalizes those who enter into the program and fail to quit.
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While the intent of this type of reward/punishment-based smoking cessation program may be to encourage a change in employee lifestyle, it is clear that the goal of the program is to reduce productivity losses and health care costs.
These types of programs raise questions about the role of the employer in any employee’s personal lifestyle decisions. Does the employer really want to be monitoring and stepping into an employee’s personal behaviours that extend beyond the boundaries of the workplace?
The answers to all of these questions remain unclear.
These and similar questions will, no doubt, continue to be asked as our social and health-related demographics continue to change into the future.
- To what degree do you think the employer should be involved in an employee’s decision to continue or stop smoking?
- Who benefits from a reward-based smoking cessation program? Why?
- Would you change a health-related behaviour (stop smoking, go on a diet, start exercising) if your employer offered you a financial reward for making that change? Why or why not?
- Would you change a health-related behaviour (stop smoking, go on a diet, start exercising) if your employer imposed a financial penalty on you if you did not make that change? Why or why not?