How far should employers go in regulating off hours behavior?

Yesterday on NPR I heard this story on a Massachusetts police officer who was fired for smoking off duty(Link) and a follow-up interview with Louis Maltby of the National Work Rights Institute (Link). Apparently all new hires to this particular department (and many others) have to sign a pledge that they will not smoke, either on or off duty. The rule was instituted in 1988, but had apparently been largely ignored, and then somebody told on this officer by anonymous letter. From the stories cited we learn that this type of rule exists not only for many police and fire departments, but for about 6% of private employers as well.

From the perspective of economics, this might not be as unreasonable as one would think. As you can imagine the reasoning is that smoking-related health and disability benefits are a significant cost, and this is a way to hold those down. In the case of public safety personnel there’s the additional argument that they need to maintain optimal health to remain effective on the job. One could counter that, however, by saying that public safety work is admireably suited for performance testing, and that they should not be intruding on employees’ private lives. I for one am very disturbed that employers can do this. I thought this sort of thing went out in the 1920’s, when Henry Ford used to have his workers spied upon to see if they were drinking. It implies that the employer becomes the chief ruling force in the worker’s life, 24 hours a day, and I think 40 to 60 hours a week is enough already.

How far should this go? Should society be governed by elected governments constrained by constitutions, or should employers rule? How valid is the argument that if workers don’t want to accept the conditions of employment they are free to go elsewhere, when in many cases there is nowhere else to go?

It is exactly this kind of employer overzealouness that spawns unions. Sure, the employees could quit an try to find another job; or, they could stick together and break the employer’s back over a work action. When one party decides to enforce rules that benefit their own narrow interest against the interests of another, loyalty goes out the window, and it’s every man for himself. Anybody remember when people used to work for the same employer for 30, 40 years? Ever wonder why this rarely happens anymore?

I’ve read a few reports of cases like these. Big Tobacco usually foots the bill for their lawyers, and you know what kind of money they have.

I don’t know why so many liberals worry about the government taking away rights (maybe because they don’t have jobs;) ) I more concerned about the companies we work for encroaching more and more on our rights.

It’s bad enough that by virtue of having a “white collar” job, one is expected to work longer and longer hours or travel. Now companies want to control how you spend your free time.

Personally, unless the person has a position like a policeman or teacher where a certain level of morality off-duty is expected (and even that is debatable) or the activity is somehow related to the position, the company should have no say in what I do in my spare time.

It’s the same kind of invasive mentality that makes them feel entitled to make you pee in a cup before they’ll give you a job.

I personally find these sorts of things to be humiliating on so many levels, and refuse to work for companies that engage in those practices. If more people refused they’d stop doing it… :frowning:

From my friendly local Florida Highway Patrolman (and my roommate)- Regulating the off-duty smoking of law enforcement personnel is fair and important because physical conditioning plays a role in an officer’s ability to perform his job.

Which is fair enough, I suppose, but shouldn’t their donut intake be monitored too? :wink:

I refuse, also, though many people out there don’t have the luxury of turning down a potential job.

I actually refused even to go interview somewhere where they did drug testing - and I don’t even consume drugs, even prescription! It’s the idea that employees are not entitled to dignity (or self-respect or they are going to lie to the employer) which I find offensive and intolerable. Work is about coming together as a team and working for a goal, not cotton-picking on a plantation for the massas.

Quoth dutchboy208:

I gotta call foul on this one. If physical conditioning is required for the job, then the employer can and should test for physical conditioning, not some third-party proxy that can affect said conditioning. I smoke, but I also run about 30 miles a week and lift weights. If someone can meet the physical requirements of the job it’s nobodies business what they do on their own time.

Grr. I have to leave for work* soon so I don’t have time for a long reply. I heard the same story on NPR the other day and I was dumbfounded, as per the story officers with drug or alcohol problems are given more leeway than officers caught smoking! Drug addicts or alcoholics are given counseling and a second chance, smokers are fired on the spot. Let’s say that again: POLICE OFFICERS with an ILLEGAL DRUG HABIT are given more leeway when caught than police officers caught smoking an otherwise perfectly legal drug which doesn’t impair your judgement. My brain hurts.

  • where smoking is permitted despite the fact that I work for a cancer treatment clinic, they also don’t have a drug test policy or any other such invasive nonsense.

Which is the point I was also making. Maybe an actual peace officer will be along at some point to give a definitive answer, but I always imagined that they have to go through periodic fitness tests anyway. So if the officer smokes off duty but can still pass the fitness test, that’s the end of it, or at least it used to be the end of it.

But when folks complain about these abuses and say “there ought to be a law preventing companies from running roughshod over our rights,” the conservatives whine “Doing that requires big government! We hate big government! You whiney liberals must realize that government is bad and companies are good! If you domn’t like the companies encroaching on your rights, get a job elsewhere!” :rolleyes:

I don’t know if anyone saw this but here is a story about a guy who was fired from Home Depot ostensibly for writing mean things about the CEO on a website.

Please read with an appropriate amount of very small particles of sodium choloride.

I must humbly beg to differ.

Defending one’s rights does not require big government. It requires one Constitution Of The United States, which we already have… and some laws defending one’s privacy… which don’t cost any more than any other kind of law…

…and a lawyer.

THIS requires some money.

And employers don’t LIKE to pay their employees enough to successfully sue them. How many upper-level executives had to pee in cups to get THEIR positions?

I’m not a big fan of tobacco, since watching two of my relatives choke to death on chunks of their own cancerous lungs… but then, and now, I say that if you wanna smoke, it’s YOUR ass. Smoke 'em if you got 'em, but not in my house, and that’s all I have to say on the subject.

If a cop wants to smoke, fine. Let him prove that he can catch a fleeing crook just as well as a nonsmoking cop. If he CAN, then everyone shut the hell up.

And I don’t do drugs, either, but that doesn’t mean I will cheerfully stand there with my pants around my ankles and pee in a cup in front of some damn nurse with a happy “Can do, nothing to hide,” attitude. Screw THAT. If I whip my tinkus out for YOU, you had better be prepared to give me a complete physical examination, or have sex with me, one of the two, folks. And if that makes me an obstreperous, arrogant bastard… or even a LIBERAL… well, so be it. There are things in this world that no one of any dignity should have to put up with, and that’s one of them.

I’ve often thought it would be fun to require elected officials to take a piss test before taking office. And they should have to do it on television.

I’ve often thought it would be fun to only allow compulsory piss testing if the nurse or cop watching must then whip it out and pee in a cup in front of the person they’re watching, too. Just to make everything fair, and all.

Be fun to see how long this piss test nonsense lasted if we did THAT…

They do?

I think that, generally speaking, an employer should have virtually no say in how you spend your free time, with a few caveats.

First and most importantly, an emplyer should have the right to fire you for doing things in your free time that have a reasonable negative impact on the company. For an obvious example, part of employment contract states that I will not perform any work for my company’s competitors. This seems perfectly reasonable to me. Another obvious example would be, say, an actor on a children’s TV show who’s expected to appear virtuous and wholesome. If Mr. Rogers was found smoking crack at an orgy, his reputation would be tarnished, and parents would likely keep their kids from watching his show. I wouldn’t object to Mr. Rogers being sacked, in this case.

Secondly, I feel an employer should reserve the right to fire people who break laws outside of the work place. If I get busted for burglary, that demonstrates that I don’t respect the law, and my employer has no way of knowing that I won’t try to rip him off, as well. He would be justified in canning my ass.

And lastly, I feel an employer should be justified in firing someone for engaging in behavior that is likely to affect his on-the-job performance, even if those behaviors are perfectly legal. If I’m an alcoholic, there’s a good chance it could affect my work.

Short of those three areas, though, I think my private life should be my own business, not that of my employer. The above list may not be exhaustive, but I can’t think of any other good reasons for my boss to interfere with my off-work time. As to the example of the officer, I think it’s something of a gray area. There’s a case to be made that an officer who smokes is going to be less healthy, and thus less effective as a cop. That said, it’s a fairly weak case. And the issue of morality wrt smoking is, to me, a non-issue. If the guy was fired on a morality issue, I think the decision is lousy. If he was fired for health reasons, I still disagree, but I’m not quite outraged.

Dunno about police but firefighters can claim many lung diseases as work related, so smoking is kinda begging for a disability claim. When I went to Fire Academy we were not allowed to smoke under threat of expulsion from the program for similar reasons.

Cyn post is actually Drachillix

For me this is a bit less clearly defined. I’d be more willing to listen to the arguments for this person’s being fired than for the policeman in the OP. It could be construed as intentionally undermining the company’s interests and business. Most companies have policies against that, and I don’t think that’s unreasonable. For example, I work for a satellite TV company. If f I went about, even on my own time, proclaiming the evils of TV, my employers would be justifiably miffed.

Of course, if it goes beyond the sphere of defamation, or running a competing business after hours, then I do have a problem with such a rule. For example, if such rules were used to fire workers who wanted to unionize, on the grounds that that would potentially undermine future profits by forcing higher wages, then that would be wrong.

  1. The health hazards of smoking are well documented.
  2. It is a reasonable assumption that those individuals who smoke choose to do so in spite of the health risks, rather than because they are not aware of the risks.
  3. Choosing to smoke despite the significant risk to your health and the health of persons around you is an error in judgement.
  4. Persons who are prone to making judgement errors should probably not carry guns.
  1. All humans make errors in judgement; therefore we need to invent RoboCop, pronto!