Employers who charge higher health premiums to employees who smoker has been a heated issue for several years. The trend first took the national spotlight in 2003 when Weyco, Inc. stopped hiring smokers and gave current employees 1 year to quit [smoking] or be fired.
The issue of charging smokers more for health care has flared up again this week when it was reported that Whirlpool has suspended 38 smokers who claimed they were non-smokers to get a lower health care premium. According to press reports, the workers were seen smoking or chewing tobacco at the company’s smoking huts even though they signed paperwork claiming they did not use tobacco.
Whirlpool charges smokers an additional $500 per year in health premiums. According to a 2007 survey of employer-sponsored health plans by consulting firm Mercer, 16 percent of large employers vary employee premiums based on smoking status. Among small and midsize employers, 5 percent vary premiums.
Whirlpool, like most employers, uses an honor system requesting employees to honestly fill out paperwork regarding their smoking status. It remains to be seen as this case will lead to mandatory nicotine testing as at least one article has suggested.
Our friend, John Phillips at The Word on Employment Law, also has a timely post about this news called, Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em?