Can Fairfax County Push Employees into Healthier Lifestyles?

Supervisors ask for guidance from county attorney

Can an employer like Fairfax County force its workers to quit smoking or refuse to hire anyone who smokes?

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors has asked the county attorney to investigate those questions.

The request comes as supervisors look for ways to reduce health care costs.

Supervisor Gerry Hyland, D-Mt. Vernon, offered the idea at Tuesday's meeting.

He notes that about half of the workers who took part in a voluntary smoking cessation program were successful in kicking the habit.

Hyland has received complaints from non-smoking workers, who tell him they must pick up the slack from employees who take smoking breaks during work hours.

All county buildings are smoke free, so smokers must go outside to light up.

Hyland said the county is also looking into making all county properties smoke free, something Montgomery County, Md., is also considering.

About 2,700 Fairfax County employees are smokers.

Supervisor Michael Frey, R-Sully, asked the county attorney to widen his investigation to include all risky behaviors so smokers couldn't say they were facing discrimination.

While all supervisors agreed to ask the attorney to investigate, not all are on board with the idea.

Board Chair Sharon Bulova said the county has valuable workers who smoke.

Hyland said the county would pay the costs of any required smoking cessation programs, just as it did with the voluntary one.

The attorney is also looking into whether prospective employees can be asked if they smoke and if smoking can be a detriment to their being hired.

In addition to the health care costs and non-smoking worker complaints, Hyland said personal experiences of his family members are behind him pushing the issue.

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