Smoking hazardous to careers in U.S.

Whirlpool suspends 39 workers who lied about smoking status
||Last Updated: 04/23/2008

With annual health-care premiums rising more than 10 per cent a year in the United States, employers are cracking down on unhealthy behaviours, such as smoking, to save money.

For employees of appliance manufacturer Whirlpool, based in Benton Harbor, Mich., lying about smoking could cost them their jobs.

A Whirlpool refrigerator factory in Evansville, Ind., suspended 39 workers, who had signed paperwork claiming they don't use tobacco, after they were seen smoking or chewing tobacco on company property. Now some could be fired for lying, said company spokeswoman Debby Castrale.

Whirlpool encourages U.S. workers and their dependents to abstain from tobacco use by offering financial incentives, which vary according to location.

In Evansville, the 1,500-employee factory charges tobacco users an extra $500 in annual health insurance premiums. The factory has levied the extra premium since 1996, and it depends on employees to honestly fill out forms.

More and more employers are asking employees to state on benefits forms when they sign up whether or not they use tobacco. The fine print on those forms often tells employees that lying could lead to a suspension, termination of benefits or dismissal, Indianapolis benefits lawyer Mike Paton told the Associated Press.

And 16 per cent of all large employers — those with 20,000 or more employees — adjust health care premium contributions according to the worker's smoking status, according to a 2007 survey by HR consulting firm Mercer.

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