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Quit Smoking or Quit Your Job, U.S. Company Says

Reuters | January 27 2005

CHICAGO (Reuters) - The owner of a Michigan company who forced his employees to either quit smoking or quit their jobs said on Wednesday he also wants to tell fat workers to lose weight or else.

A ban on tobacco use -- whether at home or at the workplace -- led four employees to quit their jobs last week at Okemos, Michigan-based Weyco Inc., which handles insurance claims.

The workers refused to take a mandatory urine test demanded of Weyco's 200 employees by founder and sole owner Howard Weyers, a demand that he said was perfectly legal.

"If you don't want to take the test, you can leave," Weyers told Reuters. "I'm not controlling their lives; they have a choice whether they want to work here."

Next on the firing line: overweight workers.

"We have to work on eating habits and getting people to exercise. But if you're obese, you're (legally) protected," Weyers said.

He has brought in an eating disorder therapist to speak to workers, provided eating coaches, created a point system for employees to earn health-related $100 bonuses and plans to offer $45 vouchers for health club memberships.

The 71-year-old Weyers, who said he has never smoked and pronounced himself in good shape thanks to daily runs, said employees' health as well as saving money on the company's own insurance claims led him to first bar smokers from being hired in 2003.

Last year, he banned smoking during office hours, then demanded smokers pay a monthly $50 "assessment," and finally instituted mandatory testing.

Twenty workers quit the habit.

Weyers tells clients to quit whining about health care costs and to "set some expectations; demand some things."

Job placement specialist John Challenger said Weyco's moves could set a precedent for larger companies -- if it survives potential legal challenges.

"Certainly it raises an interesting boundary issue: rising health care costs and society's aversion to smoking versus privacy and freedom rights of an individual," Challenger said.

So far no legal challenges have been made to Weyco's policies.

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