Good for Volusia County

I’m obviously in the minority here thinking Volusia County did the right thing by firing those three medics for using nicotine.

Volusia County does not hire people who are addicted to nicotine. Why they don’t hire nicotine addicts is their business. I can’t speak to their reasoning.

The three employees knew they would be terminated for using nicotine, but chose to anyway. And now they are surprised, or think they should be given a second chance, even when they admin they knowingly violated their employer’s policy.

Yes, smoking is legal at home. And so is firing, or refusing to employ someone, who is a smoker. Smokers are not a “protected class” meaning Volusia County has every right to terminate whomever they wish to terminate, for any reason.

In case you aren’t familiar with the term “protected class” and think these terminations are illegal, ask yourself; are any of these people being “discriminated” against?

Several Federal laws, starting with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (even 1866), specifically state that persons can’t be discriminated based on: race, color, religion, national origin, age, sex, family status, sexual orientation (sometimes), disability status, or genetics.
Interestingly enough, that list doesn’t contain “nicotine addicts.”

Some comments have likened the Volusia policy to firing people for being overweight. I think that’s a good idea. Am I the only one that sees the irony in having a fat paramedic reeking of cigarette smoke taking care of the little old lady?

Why should an employer be penalized with higher insurance costs for the bad decisions of some of their employees? I don’t think an employer should. It’s in essence, asking the employer to subsidize the employee’s bad behavior.

Something that very few people have pointed out is whose jobs these are. Your job does not belong to you. It belongs to the person (or company) who signs your paycheck. They make the rules, not you. The workforce is like a club. You follow the rules set up, or you don’t. The decision is yours.

This is coming from a paramedic who is admittedly overweight. Not too much, but enough that I know I need to lose weight. And I also enjoy nicotine.

If my employer was to tell me that starting tomorrow, nicotine use (even off duty) would be banned, then I would never use nicotine again.

If my employer was to tell me that starting tomorrow, I had x number of weeks to lose x number of pounds, or to weigh x; you can rest assured I would be taking a walk tomorrow, and would have enjoyed my last soda.

I will reiterate what I said earlier: I think it’s a good thing these medics were terminated. They knew the rules, and chose to violate them.

Way to go, Volusia County.

Comments

  1. God, very thankful that your the MINORITY

    • If believing that an employer should be able to dictate their terms of employment makes me in the minority, then I’m happy to be in that minority.

  2. My only problem is that if those employees approached their supervisor, reported that they have a substance abuse problem and asked for employer assistance getting clean, the employer would do so. They’d go to rehab, on their health insurance’s dime. And their jobs would be waiting for them when they were done.

    But nicotine gets them tossed out the door without so much as a “How to Quit Smoking” pamphlet.

    • BH;

      My only problem is that if those employees approached their supervisor, reported that they have a substance abuse problem and asked for employer assistance getting clean, the employer would do so.

      Let’s change the drug of choice here from nicotine to heroin, for the sake of argument. (Let’s disregard the legality of heroin, if you don’t mind. It’s hypothetical.)
      If an employee has an addiction to heroin, and approaches management seeking help for their addiction, then yes, you are right, the employer should (and does, in most cases I believe) provide that help. We should provide assistance to addicts who want to get clean.
      But, if that same employee keeps their mouth shut, and knowingly violates the company policy by using heroin on their time off, and they are found out during a random drug test, should they not be fired?
      The fact that the nicotine is legal doesn’t matter here, at least in my opinion. The company said “absolutely no nicotine use, and if you use it, you will be terminated.” The employee chose to use the drug, instead of seeking out the help, and must suffer the consequences.

      But nicotine gets them tossed out the door without so much as a “How to Quit Smoking” pamphlet.

      Man, I would certainly hope the county would provide smoking cessation classes. If they didn’t, then shame on them. But the employer still has the right to make their own rules.
      We don’t have to follow them, but we do have to accept the consequences if we don’t.

      • The analogy does not hold very well, because if the employees were on probationary status and came forward with an illegal substance abuse problem, they would still be fired. We had a guy who had about a month of the job and who was found passed out. Turns out he was addicted to pain meds from a previous job. He was terminated immediately and without recourse.

        In the extant case, the situation is the same. These three were on probation and as such had no recourse.

  3. I agree with you in general terms, but you should note that this policy only applies to NEW hires, not existing employees. Under the terms of the take over of EMS by the county from the private service that previously provided EMS, these people were new hires. Which makes it a bit more complicated, because applying rules like this to existing employees is a sticky proposition.

    Which is why in many cases, and it varies by state, employees have property rights in jobs. Which means that they can not be terminated without just cause and an established procedure. Which would have applied to these three medics if they were not on probation.

    Employment law is very complex, then again so is most law. However in this case the law is clear, these employees were on probation and failing a drug test was more than ample cause for termination.

    It is ironic though that in many places people addicted to illegal drugs are treated with more compassion than people who use totally legal substances.

    • TOTW;

      you should note that this policy only applies to NEW hires, not existing employees.

      Volusia County requires all uniformed personnel, including Sheriff’s Deputies, firefighters, and EVAC employees.

      Which makes it a bit more complicated, because applying rules like this to existing employees is a sticky proposition.

      From what I have read, there are no uniformed employees in Volusia County that are permitted to smoke, new hire or old hire.

      Which is why in many cases, and it varies by state, employees have property rights in jobs. Which means that they can not be terminated without just cause and an established procedure. Which would have applied to these three medics if they were not on probation.

      I know nothing about Florida employment law. I imagine that I will find out more if, and when, these three employees pursue legal action.

      It is ironic though that in many places people addicted to illegal drugs are treated with more compassion than people who use totally legal substances.

      I wonder what would have happened if one of these three people had approached management, seeking help for their addiction? But I agree with you. Addiction is addiction, regardless of the legality of the substance. We should treat all addicts who want help the same.

      • Maybe I read the article incorrectly or maybe it was written incorrectly. My impression was that existing employees were grand fathered in and exempt from the requirement. These three, even though the worked for the predecessor provider became “new” employees which is why they were on probation.

        Even if the rule applies to existing employees retroactively, non probationary employees would likely have far more recourse than probationary employees.

        This article http://tinyurl.com/89mqd6k indicates that the rule was first implemented in 1989, but only for new hires. At this point, it’s likely that there aren’t too many people left from before the ban.

  4. Medic Wicket says:

    Don’t you think termination is a bit excessive? What ever happened to escalating disciplanary action? How do we know the nicotine was from them smoking or from another source, such as nicotine gum, chewing tobacco, the patch, secondhand smoke from a relative or close acquaitance who smokes? (I know the article states they all admitted to smoking, this is a hypothetical.) While I like the idea behind the policy, I believe the punishment does not fit the crime. In EMS, where we need to be independant with our thoughts and actions, only a very few things should lead to immediate termination, and those things should be related doing physical harm, by action or inaction, to the patient, customers, and community members, or lying during an investigation.

    • You raise good points, Medic Wicket. Perhaps immediate termination is excessive, but my opinion on that doesn’t matter. The employer is the one who decides how to discipline, and how severely. According to the article, the employees knowingly violated a company’s policies, and risked termination for their violation. Put yourself in the position of the employer: If you made this policy, and then you learned that an employee willfully violated your policy, how would you react? Progressive disciplinary action could perhaps show a weakness.

      • Medic Wicket says:

        I completely agree with you that they knowingly violated the policy and should have been aware of the consequences. I just think that those consequences are too severe and a policy like this can open the door to more intrusive lifestyle policies. I don’t smoke, but I couldn’t see myself working for an employer with lifestyle policies.

        • Probationary employees, which these guys were, don’t have the same rights to progressive discipline that tenured employees do. That’s the purpose of probationary periods, to ween out problem employees early on.

          I feel very badly for these guys, but the rule is well established and they knew what it was when they signed on.

  5. It appears that we are returning to the nineteenth century in terms of employers controlling their employees lives. It works well when the employer is Mr. Fezziwig, not well when the employer is Ebenezer Scrooge (the comparison is inserted in honor of the day).

    The underlying question is how much should the government and laws interfere with that relationship. And that’s a complicated and ongoing question. It is here further complicated by the employer, as I understand it, being the government and further, by the government having exerted eminent domain over EMS provision that had been previously provided by a private service. Is that correct?

    I read something on this before but I’m not up for re-researching it at this point but did I understand from comments above that the policy only applied to uniformed personnel of the government. If that’s the case, the entire argument in favor of the government collapses completely and a 14th Amendment claim may arise.

    • I’m not sure how anyone here is being denied due process. Since you brought up the 14th amendment, I can imagine that is what you are getting at.

      At it’s core, I believe that an employer has every right to dictate the rules of employment, as long as those rules don’t violate the “protected class” rules. If an employer wants to have a rule forbiding the use of nicotine, in order to keep it’s insurance rates down (what Volusia County has done, as they are self-insured), then so be it. If the employee doesn’t like it, then he can either go work somewhere else, or apply for a position that is out of the uniformed division.

      I applaud Volusia County for making such an unpopular decision, and having the fortitude to carry out the punishment the employees knew was coming.

      • As I said, I haven’t gone back to re-read all the background but based on your original entry and some of the comments, I get the impression that the authority that made the rule was Volusia County – a government entity to which the Constitution and Bill of Rights apply according to long-standing court decisions. My application of the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment is based on my understanding that the rule only applied to the uniformed personnel. I can’t foresee that being upheld if other non-uniform county employees are not affected by the rule. If it is a county-wide rule, then the 14th amendment issue probably disappears.

        Other than that, it’s just a dispute over how much power an employer, and a government employer, should have in the private lives of its employees.

  6. Rule A. Punishment for violating Rule A. Sign here, you start tomorrow.
    Violated rule A? You get punishment.

    If my employer disallowed alcohol use off duty I’d either quit home brewing or quit the job. I have the ability to get another job.
    If the employees knew the rule going in, then they knew the rule going out. Period.

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  1. […] we are seeing because it amounts to discrimination in his opinion (an opinion I share). CCC gives kudos to the county for setting high standards regarding smoking, and wants the overweight to be next in the […]

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