Should employers reject the hiring of smokers to reduce health care costs?
FORT WORTH — City employees who take a smoke break are fuming over a new idea to make Fort Worth a tobacco-free work place by not hiring smokers.
"I think it's an infringement on the public's rights to live their life the way they choose to," said Vince Chasteen, president of the city's employee association. Chasteen has worked for the city for 30 years; he's smoked for 41.
He said he understands the need to lower health care costs, but thinks employees should always have a choice.
"I feel like the next thing they want to do is take DNA samples to figure out if anybody is going to have any kind of diseases going forward," Chasteen said.
Mayor Betsy Price has made it her mission to make Fort Worth a healthier city.
"Certainly we put tax-payer dollars into health care for our employees, and anything that might benefit the health to make our employees more protective and healthy, we're going to take a look at," she said.
But in an informal report expected to be delivered during Tuesday's pre-Council meeting, the mayor said Fort Worth's human resources department is examining hiring policies as part of its overall health care strategy.
The city is looking at private business models, which include Baylor Healthcare System. It stopped hiring smokers as of January 1.
The hospital also offers programs for current employees and their spouses to stop smoking. President Steve Newton said every dollar Baylor spends on wellness saves the company $2.44.
"It certainly helps to promote health in our communities," Newton told News 8. "It also helps in the bottom line. We spend less money on our health care, and we end up with a healthier work force."
Employment attorneys said there's nothing stopping the city or any other employer from banning tobacco. Smokers are not a protected civil rights group.
Quitman Stephens with Cantey Hanger helps companies institute wellness programs as part of their health care coverage. He said banning tobacco and tobacco users is a growing trend.
He believes Fort Worth would be the first big city to consider the hiring policy.
The tobacco ban is one of six "Big Ideas" submitted by city employees that could save taxpayer money. The proposal for pre-Council says the HR director will present a five-year health care strategy to the Council in May.
A basic proposal is expected to be submitted to the city manager's office on May 7.