State Dems Look to Make Firing Smokers Illegal

By: Tony Tagliavia
By: Tony Tagliavia

State Senate Democrats will propose a bill Monday making it illegal to fire a worker for smoking -- or other otherwise legal behavior -- outside of the workplace.

When Okemos-based Weyco, Inc. started firing employees who smoked cigarettes outside the office, it sparked debate about whether the firings were legal. That debate continues.

"A person's private business is their private business. It should not be legal for a company to fire someone for their private business, if it's legal -- and smoking is legal," a DeWitt-area woman told us.

Back in 2005, then-State Sen. Virg Bernero made a push to outlaw firing employees for legal conduct outside the workplace. Now the proposal's back again -- one sponsor, State Sen. Mark Schauer.

"I don't think anyone wants to go down a path saying someone should lose their job ... for taking action that has no effect on their work performance or work product. That's a very dangerous road to go down," Schauer said.

The Democrat, who represents Jackson, says non-job performance factors include the health of family members or membership in political organizations. Schauer says Michigan is falling behind the rest of the country when it comes to employment law.

"We're just trying to make sure Michigan joins 30 other states. We're an outlier," he said.

Not everyone is on board with the Democrats' proposal.

"If there's a stipulation when they hire in that they hire only nonsmokers then it should be legal," a DeWitt man told us.

State Sen. Alan Cropsey says actions like those taken by Weyco aren't discriminatory.

"In the sense that it's not based on race, religion creed and color. After that it's left up to the employee and the business," Cropsey said.

The DeWitt Republican says the law could have a negative impact on the economy.

"I hope that we would not send the business community the message that we're putting more regulations on business. We're having a tough time as it is keeping businesses in Michigan," Cropsey said.

Senate Democrats will announce the bill Monday. We contacted the public relations firm representing Weyco for comment Sunday -- our call was not returned.


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