Indiana bill would empower companies to test -- and fire -- employees for using tobacco

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- Businesses in Indiana can test current and prospective employees for the use of illegal drugs such as marijuana, heroin and cocaine.

If Fort Wayne Sen. Liz Brown gets her way, they'll soon be able to test for a legal one, too.

Senate Bill 23, which Brown sponsored, would repeal a portion of the state code that prohibits employers from attempting to control their workers' tobacco intake outside of the job. The section she hopes to repeal reads:

An employer may not require, as a condition of employment, an employee or prospective employee refrain from using or discriminate against an employee with respect to the employee's compensation and benefits or terms and conditions of employment based on the employee's use of tobacco products.

If the so-called "smoker's bill of rights" is no longer law, businesses would be able to withhold health coverage from smokers, refuse to hire them or even fire existing employees based on tobacco use in their free time.

"Smoking is hard to quit," bartender Christian Mikus, who smokes, said Tuesday. "It's not something people can just drop on a dime."

The law currently in place prohibits discrimination but does allow companies to implement financial incentives for reducing tobacco use. Mikus said he thinks this is fair, and he understands companies' concerns about the cost of providing health care to employees who smoke.

However, he believes an employer's power to punish workers for using tobacco should not extend past the boundaries of the workplace.

"I understand where they're coming from, but I don't know if that's the right way to go about it," he said.

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