Welcome to the archives for NewsTalk, an IBJ blog published from November 2007 through December 2010.

Charging employees to smoke

April 22, 2008
Whirlpool is struggling with its employees in Evansville as it tries to keep a lid on escalating health care costs.

The company says it has caught a few dozen of them smoking. That wouldnâ??t be a problem had the employees not signed forms saying they didnâ??t smoke, which saved them a $500 penalty on their health insurance.

Now those employeesâ?? days at the refrigerator plant are probably numbered.

Employers are reluctant to penalize smokers because it can kill morale. Clarian Health backed off on a proposed penalty after workers complained the policy was negative.

Ned Lamkin, a retired Indianapolis physician and president of the Indiana Employers Quality Health Alliance, says employers are fidgeting as they decide how much they want to intrude into workersâ?? lives.

Expect many more companies to take Whirlpoolâ??s approach, Lamkin says. Health care simply has become too expensive for companies to ignore unhealthy lifestyles.

Once employers get comfortable with penalties for smoking, theyâ??ll shift to monitoring blood pressure and other measures to improve health and ultimately cut costs.

â??Whirlpool may be kind of the crack in the nut,â?? Lamkin says. â??Once that crack gets big enough, other employers will follow suit.â??

Do you think employees should be penalized for smoking?
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