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Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

Kick the habit or else

Reynolds & Reynolds employees must stop smoking or lose their jobs

By Shelley Grieshop
CELINA - A local company is implementing a controversial policy that forbids workers to smoke on or off the job - even in the privacy of their homes.
Beginning Jan. 1, all employees of Reynolds & Reynolds who smoke must kick the habit or face termination, according to Tom Schwartz, corporate spokesman for the Dayton-based company.
"By January 1, 2011, we expect to be a nicotine-free workplace," he said.
The goal is to help all Rey-nolds' associates become healthier while attempting to lower the company's health costs, he said. The policy applies to all of the company's more than 5,000 associates worldwide, including approximately 500 workers in Celina.
"Right now we're 95 to 96 percent tobacco-free as a workforce," he said, adding the percentage is likely lower at the Celina plant.
The company announced the policy change in May - giving employees seven months to quit, Schwartz said. The company's health care provider, Cigna, has smoking cessation tools available to help workers become smoke-free, he added.
Employees will be asked about smoking and other health-related issues during Reynolds' annual health benefit sign-up in October.
Beginning Jan. 1, the company will utilize its current random drug/alcohol testing system to snuff out smokers, he said. Consequences will follow.
"Fundamentally, if someone violates the policy, the associates' handbook is pretty clear. You will be terminated, you will lose your job," he explained.
Although he didn't know what type of tests would be administered, Schwartz said he was certain the level of technology used would prevent nonsmoking employees from being penalized for exposure to second-hand smoke.
This isn't the first step the company has taken to eliminate smokers from their workforce, Schwartz said. About three years ago the automotive retailing solutions company began hiring only nonsmokers.
There are no laws in Ohio to prevent companies from refusing to hire smokers or firing employees found with nicotine in their system. Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia have "smoker protection" laws that prevent companies from creating such policies.
Ohio legislators are contemplating such a law. Pending House Bill 470 would make smokers a protected class - similar to race, gender and disability - which are protected under federal discrimination laws.
Celina attorney George Moore said Ohio workers who smoke have little if any recourse against employers or their policies. A court battle would be difficult, he added.
"I think it would be an uphill battle," Moore said.
Employers in every U.S. state but Montana are supported by a legal right known as "employment at will," which allows them to hire and fire workers without providing specific reasons, he explained. Moore said companies also are free to change their policies at any time and employees must abide in exchange for employment, unless a prior agreement is made between the parties.
Some companies have been sued for their policies. Those in opposition say they discriminate against a specific population and squash individual's rights. However, to date, the courts have sided with employers.
Schwartz said two years ago Reynolds' top officials began working on plans to improve their employees' overall health. Earlier this year, wellness committees were created at each plant to implement various initiatives. Vending machines now offer healthier beverages and snacks instead of sugary alternatives; employee walking paths were created inside and outside the plant; a recipe swap was implemented; and physical activity incentives were offered.
"We've changed our health plan to pay 100 percent of preventive care," Schwartz added.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, companies in the U.S. spend $96 billion annually on medical expenses attributed to smoking. Recent Census data shows 46 million Americans - one in five - smoke.
No other companies in the Grand Lake area have announced employee smoking policies like the one proposed by Reynolds. Only a few appear to exist statewide, the majority being at hospitals and insurance companies such as the Cleveland Clinic and Medical Mutual. Others who've taken the step include Scott's Miracle Grow, a Marysville-based plant, and the Cincinnati Zoo.
Schwartz admitted Reynolds' policy has "raised some eyebrows" and he's sympathetic to the smokers who must comply or lose their jobs.
"It's a lifestyle change ... I don't want to diminish that," he said.
But despite the expected opposition, company officials believe they're moving in the right direction.
"We're proud of what we're doing," Schwartz said.
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