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Largo commissioners rethink ban on hiring tobacco users

LARGO — Largo's momentum toward establishing a policy that bans hiring any person who uses tobacco products hit a speed bump Tuesday after commissioners felt the issue was contentious enough to warrant additional time examining the policy's consequences.

Commissioner Gigi Arntzen said the hiring ban was "controversial" and should be dealt with separately from other human resources policies that were unanimously adopted by commissioners.

Those policies included a measure that added bereavement benefits to employees in the event of a death of a domestic partner.

Susan Sinz, the city's human resources director, said instituting a hiring ban for all smokers would save the city in health care costs and improve employee welfare.

Sinz said city staff came to the policy idea after looking at "things that decrease our exposure and help manage potential risks that may be out there."

She added that the city had incurred high costs for claims in the past due to smoking-related claims.

According to the industry publication Corporate Wellness Advisors cited by city staff, U.S. businesses pay $3,391 more per smoker per year in medical insurance costs and lost productivity due to smoking-related ailments such as lung cancer.

Commissioners hinted that some of the questions that will be explored in further discussions about the policy include enforcement.

Sinz said a precedent is already in place, since the city's firefighters and police officers are already contractually bound not to use tobacco products.

No police or fire employee has been suspended for violating the tobacco-free policy since it was adopted in the early 1990s, Sinz said.

While current employees would be exempt from the proposed policy, new hires would be required to sign an affidavit certifying they do not smoke and have not smoked within the past year.

Penalties for violating the no-smoking rule would include a written warning, three- and five-day suspensions, and termination for a fourth violation.

Commissioner Curtis Holmes spoke up against the policy as a "slippery slope" that could lead to other policies that could infringe on employee personal behavior, such as alcohol or food consumption.

"What is the next one? We're going to enforce weight?" Holmes said. "You come in and you're some porker, are we going to deny that, too?"

Dominick Tao can be reached at (727) 580-2951 or dtao@sptimes.com.

Largo commissioners rethink ban on hiring tobacco users 09/07/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 7, 2010 9:06pm]
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