conn. gen. stat. 31-40s

So yesterday, I made a convincing case that employees who smoke outside the workplace can’t be treated differently than your non-smokers. 

But what about your health insurance plans? Doesn’t the state law prohibit your plan from imposing higher premium costs on those smokers?

Well on first glance it appears yes.  The state law would seem to apply.

But, dig deeper (and without getting too technical) and you’ll understand that there is a federal law — ERISA — that trumps that state law when it comes to insurance plans. 

Indeed, back in 2006, the Office of Legislative Research (one of the underappreciated government offices) wrote a report that said exactly that:

You asked if Connecticut law prohibits insurers or employers from factoring in whether a person smokes when determining insurance premiums or employee contributions for health care benefits. …

Connecticut law prohibits employers from discriminating against any individual who smokes outside the workplace with respect to compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment (CGS § 31-40s). The Connecticut Department of Labor (DOL) interprets this law as not prohibiting an employer from having smokers contribute more toward health benefits than non-smokers due to preemption by the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). To our knowledge, this issue has not been litigated in a Connecticut court. …

Since that time, the question remains undecided, but there is little reason to doubt the conclusion. Indeed, there’s much more to this area than a simple blog post can provide.  But employers who believe in healthy workplaces and want to keep their insurance premiums down do have a small arrow in their quiver to make it happen.

When I was away last week, one of the headlines from my alma mater caught my attention.  The University of Pennsylvania Health System announced that effective July 1st, they will refuse to hire anyone who smokes or uses tobacco.

Smokers’ Rights Continue

No doubt some of you are either lauding this step, or shaking your head in disgust.

Could an employer in Connecticut consider taking such a step? Surprisingly no.

For of all the steps taken to promote healthy workplaces, Connecticut still prohibits employers from making decisions based on an employee or applicant’s outside smoking activities. 

Conn. Gen. Stat. Sec. 31-40s states:

No employer or agent of any employer shall require, as a condition of employment, that any employee or prospective employee refrain from smoking or using tobacco products outside the course of his employment, or otherwise discriminate against any individual with respect to compensation, terms, conditions or privileges of employment for smoking or using tobacco products outside the course of his employment, provided any nonprofit organization or corporation whose primary purpose is to discourage use of tobacco products by the general public shall be exempt from the provisions of this section.

The only notable exception to this broad restriction is that the limits do not apply to firefighters and police officers, for the most part.

Note that the restrictions also apply to compensation or other “privileges” of employment.  Thus, employers in Connecticut that want to get on the “wellness” bandwagon and start restricting employees from smoking outside the workplace or provide rewards to employees that do not smoke, ought to think twice and conform any programs with the legal requirements on the state.

And don’t look for any changes in the immediate horizon. A quick review of the Labor & Public Employee Committee book shows nary a reference to changing this law and no proposed bills on the subject have been introduced this year. 

 

 

There’s been a lot of talk of late of a "trend" beginning where employers are taking stock of employees health habits, particularly smoking.  Some employers are even considering a "smoke screen", per this story and this followup as well.   Some other background on employers and smoking policies can be found here, and here.

While employers have the statutory right to control and limit smoking in the workplace, Connecticut employers should be mindful of a state law that restricts an employer’s ability to regulate smoking outside the workplace.

In fact, in Connecticut,  Conn. Gen. Stat. 31-40s is fairly clear about smokers’ "rights" and that employers or agents of the employer cannot make no smoking a condition of employment.  Specifically, the law states:

No employer or agent of any employer shall require, as a condition of employment, that any employee or prospective employee refrain from smoking or using tobacco products outside the course of his employment, or otherwise discriminate against any individual with respect  to compensation, terms, conditions or privileges of employment for smoking or using tobacco products outside the course of his employment, provided any nonprofit organization or corporation whose primary purpose is to discourage use of tobacco products by the general public shall be exempt from the provisions of this section.

The only notable exception to this broad restriction is that the limits do not apply to firefighters and police officers, for the most part. 

Note that the restrictions also apply to compensation or other "privileges" of employment.  Thus,  employers in Connecticut that want to get on the "wellness" bandwagon and start restricting employees from smoking outside the workplace or provide rewards to employees that do not smoke, ought to think twice and conform any programs with the legal requirements on the state.

As always, getting legal advice to specific issues like regulating smoking outside the workplace is the best policy to avoid liability in the future.