Archive for December, 2006

Monday morning matter: intriguing new blog discoveries

Monday, December 4th, 2006

When we launched this blog some three plus years ago, finding related topical blogs was quite the task – the landscape was fairly barren. But it seems that nearly every week now, we are discovering terrific weblogs that are either new or that we just hadn’t found before. We thought we’d share a few of our recent discoveries:
Effect Measure – according to this blog’s “about” page, “the editors are senior public health scientists and practitioners whose names would be immediately recognizable to many in the public health community,” but who choose to blog anonymously to allow maximum freedom or expression. Topical matter revolves around far-ranging issues related to public health matters and epidemiology, and it’s quite a fascinating read. See the recent post on Polonium-210 poisoning. which offers informed commentary about potential public health risks that goes beyond the mainstream news snippets. Another post of interest to any who may be keeping an eye on potential pandemics is the post entitled cholera, bird flu and humility in science, which discusses John Snow’s search for the cause of cholera in Victorian London and the theory of poultry as a vector for the spread of bird flu today. We were also interested in the post on construction scaffolding spam in New York. In addition to being illegal and a public nuisance, these posters and advertisements are often a public safety hazard: “Often these oversized parapets are a safety hazard because they catch the wind like giant sails, making the entire structure more likely to collapse.”
Enterprise Decision Management – this is a weblog by James Taylor and colleagues at Fair Isaac. The blog focus is on the latest uses of business rules and decision automation, covering such topics as Business Activity Monitoring, Business Agility, Compliance, and Business Process Management. James recently posted about the LA Times article on the changing face of risk, which Jon Coppelman blogged about here last week. His recent post about Enterprise Fraud discusses a recent Towers Perrin report and adds his perspective.
Health Affairs Blog – we cited this blog once before when it was just launching, but we thought we would point it out again now that it seems to have its sea legs. This is the weblog adjunct to the respected Health Affairs Journal. Currently, many of the posts and essays revolve around health and human rights since this was the theme of November’s gathering of 13,000 attendees at the American Public Health Association’s annual meeting in Boston. The most recent post informs us that more than half the uninsured can’t afford health coverage and are ineligible for public programs. The post offers free limited-time access to an Urban Institute research report on this topic.

Where There’s Smoke, You’re Fired, Revisited

Friday, December 1st, 2006

In March of 2005 we blogged the issue of firing people who smoke. At that time, we wrote about the strict non-smoking policies of Weyco, a company in the health care field. When you’re in health care, prohibiting smoking is a logical extension of your fundamental business. But what if you’re in the lawn care business? Can you still fire people who smoke off the job?
The Scotts Company did just that. They fired 30 year old Scott (obviously no relation!) Rodrigues of Bourne, Massachusetts, when a drug test came up positive for nicotine. Scott is now suing Scott for violating his privacy and civil rights. The company, a subsidiary of Scotts-Miracle Gro, Inc., instituted a policy early this year forbidding smoking, on or off the job. The policy has only been implemented in the 20 states that apparently allow it (which include Massachusetts). The company is upfront about the requirement. It’s posted on the website for potential hires. They perform a post-hire test on all new employees for nicotine. Their stated goal is to promote healthy lifestyles and hold down insurance costs. [IMPORTANT NOTE: They are self-insured for health.]
Rodrigues, a pack a day smoker, says he never indulged in the habit during his few weeks on the job. Ironically, he was trying to quit. Alas, he was chewing nicotine-loaded Nicorette gum on his way to the drug test! (Needless to add, he drove to the test without bothering to ask what they were going to test for.)
Massachusetts has never specifically addressed the issue of smoker’s rights. Mr. Rodrigues’s attorney, Harvey Schwartz, says that testing for nicotine would be OK if the substance directly affected the work, which it does not. “Being compelled to provide a urine sample and the information that the sample contains is a violation of his privacy, where it has no relation to his job.”
Other attorneys believe that the company is on solid ground. They see a legitimate business interest for not hiring smokers. As with so many issues impacting the workplace, the final decision will be up to the courts.
Health Insurance and Comp
The Insider is especially intrigued by the self-insurance angle. The Scott Company recognizes the well-documented relationship between smoking and myriad health problems. They assume that by not hiring smokers, the cost of their workers’s health insurance will go down. That’s true up to a point. While they can try to dictate the behavior of their employees, they cannot impose their standards on the employee’s family members. A non-smoking employee might well go home to a house full of second-hand smoke. Could you be fired for being married to a smoker?
Beyond that, there is the issue of exposure to the “Miracle-Gro” chemicals that the company spreads on lawns. If an employee were to develop lung cancer, and if the employee demonstrates that he does not smoke (using his clean nicotine tests as proof), he might have a clear path to demonstrating that his illness is work-related and thus compensable under workers comp. That would surely be an unintended consequence of a non-smoking policy.