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Law | Arizona County Drop Plan To Ban Smoker Hiring

While there have been other municipalities that have considered banning tobacco users from employment there has never been one as large as Pima County in Arizona.

On December 16 the Pima County Board of Supervisors will vote on a plan that would allow the county to demand a nicotine test on current employees if they suspect there are puffing or dipping and impose a surcharge on health insurance to those who test positive.

Additionally, current employees who sign an affidavit that declares themselves as non-smokers will get a $5 health care discount per pay period while those who do not sign the legal document will pay an additional 30% fee.

The county policy also states that future hires would need a doctor’s note or a drug test to prove they have been tobacco or nicotine free for a year.

One would think that this would be a violation of anti-discrimination laws and Dr. Michael Siegal a public health professor at Boston University seems to agree. According to Dr. Siegal, “It is a form of employment discrimination. Discrimination is essentially making employment decisions based on a group to which someone belongs rather than their qualifications for the job.” He went on to add, “It’s a slippery slope,” arguing that the county’s reasoning — savings in medical costs and health insurance — could justify refusing to hire fat people or people with genetic dispositions to illnesses such as breast cancer.

If the proposal is passed it would take effect July, 2015.

Pima County, Arizona which includes Tucson is home to 980,000 residents over 9,189 square miles and was founded in 1864.

Update 12/16: The vote has been postponed until February and this could wind up being a bad thing. When the issue comes back up, the Board of Supervisors are looking to an alternative that will allow the hiring of smokers however they would more than double the health-insurance rates for country employees.

The current average is $21 per pay period for health care, with the current plan raising rates an additional $6.30 over the bi-weekly pay cycle. The new alternative has a preliminary number that would raise the rates $90 per month which is $45 per pay cycle.

Seems like extortion to us!

Update: 2/18: The Pima County Bord of Supervisors voted yesterday to drop the plan that would of prevented the county from hiring a worker who smokes. The did however vote in favor of the plan to raise insurance fees for those who smoke.