All college students, and especially second-semester seniors like me, know that it takes a wide range of skills to impress an employer. If the action started last week by a Michigan firm spreads, you’d better hope that a healthy lifestyle is one you practice. Weyco, Inc., a group which handles insurance claims, fired four employees because they failed to take a drug test which proved they did not smoke cigarettes.

That’s right, they got fired because they smoked a legal product on their own time in the privacy of their home. But it doesn’t stop there. The founder of the company, Howard Weyers, said that “we have to work on eating habits and getting people to exercise.” Unfortunately, if he’s hoping to only have employees who are close to optimal weight, his application pool is going to become severely dwindled. According to a Harris poll from 2002, 80 percent of Americans over the age of 25 are overweight.

Weyers’ idea actually has some merit. He told employees of his plan a year before he made the decisive cuts. During that time, the company offered help to workers to quit the habit, leading to more than a dozen giving it up. His incentive is to lower the health care costs for the company and promote a healthier lifestyle for those who work there.

While his urge to create a fit workforce may seem benevolent, it is only being put into practice to save money. The other problem is that this sets a dangerous precedent and while it may be technically legal, it seems to impinge on basic human rights.

The reason this becomes an issue is because their smoking will have absolutely no bearing on the quality of their work or any other performance in the office. In fact, if Weyers were actually thinking about anything other than being trendy and self-righteous in jumping on the anti-cigarette bandwagon, and actually cared about his employees’ health, he’d ban coffee from the office.

In the January issue of National Geographic, a study is quoted which states that people who drink as little as half a cup of coffee a day can form a physical dependence to caffeine, similar to the way a heroin addict’s cravings work. Unless they get a steady stream of the substance throughout the day, caffeine addicts can become drowsy, irritable, form a headache, or have difficulty concentrating. You know, the same thing that happens to people who are used to smoking cigarettes but have to suddenly quit. There is no word on if Weyers, 71, who says he is in good shape today partially due to not smoking, begins each day with a trip to Starbucks.

There is no doubt that smoking will, on average, lead to an earlier death than if you never take up the habit. So Weyers must be apoplectic that federal law prohibits firings based solely on race, sex and national origin. Among people who contract HIV, more than 50 percent of them are African American. While he’s firing people for no good reason, he may as well fire the African Americans and, to protect his chances of not paying for any AIDS treatment, he’d be wise to hire a bigger Asian workforce, since they account for less than five percent of AIDS cases.

So far there have been no legal challengers to Weyers’ edict, which in itself is rather shocking in such a litigious society. I think people need to challenge his position before we begin to see other businesses implement increasingly draconian measures in order to cut costs. Do you really want a world where the next most important number to the GPA on your resume is your weight?

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