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Fairfax County Could Require Stop-Smoking Classes for Employees

Such classes would be within the county's authority.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors could require county employees to enroll in stop-smoking classes, but requiring them to actually go cold turkey is against the law, according a recent memo from the County Attorney.

Prior to the Board’s Personnel Committee meeting tomorrow, County Attorney David Bobzien informed Supervisors in a Dec. 7 memo that they could not legally require workers to “pass” any such course that would discourage tobacco use.

Supervisor Gerry Hyland (D-Mount Vernon) brought the issue up before the Board in October and requested last week that county staff look into the legality of smoking restrictions on employees and county property.

“The County may require its employees to participate in smoking cessation courses just as it may require its employees to take training on other topics that may advance job skills or the health and well-being of those employees who participate,” Bobzien wrote. But he also stressed that Virginia law “does not permit the County to require employees discontinue smoking after such training.”

Aside from required stop-smoking courses, Hyland asked if an applicant’s smoking habit could be considered during hiring, if it could be a condition of employment, if smoking on county property could be banned altogether, and if the county could regulate general “risky behavior.”

But the news for Hyland’s cause isn’t good. According to Bobzien’s memo, the answer to the questions above is “no.”

Virginia law prohibits the County from weighing smoking in employment decisions, Bobzien wrote.

In 2009, the Board succeeded in banning smoking under bus shelters, but extending that ban to parks and school areas would require the state to sign off as well.

Bobzien also noted that county employees are free to participate in risky behavior, including “individual diet choices and participation in active sports.”

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Board Chairman Sharon Bulova has made it clear that she won’t stand for required training of county employees.

“I would object to any kind of forced or required training to get people to stop smoking,” Bulova said in a statement. “Smoking is a very unhealthy habit, but it is also an addiction that is hard to kick.  A person must be ready and willing to change their behavior and can’t be forced into it.”

D Harr December 11, 2012 at 03:24 PM
Message to elected officials - at all levels: Leave people the hell alone! I don't smoke myself, but people are free to choose in America. I say have a required course on the Constitution, Declaration of Independence and the Federalist Papers that current-elected officials and those seeking public office must pass (and get recertified every 2 years).
JT Thomas December 11, 2012 at 04:00 PM
My grandfather lived until he was 97. Did he smoke? No. he minded his own goddamn business.
T Ailshire December 11, 2012 at 04:08 PM
Hear, hear. But remember, President Obama was a Constitutional Law professor. So no telling *what* might be covered in these courses.
T Ailshire December 11, 2012 at 04:08 PM
If government would quit "requiring" everything under the sun, there'd be no fiscal problems, because the cost of regulation would be nearly nil.
Jim Daniels December 11, 2012 at 06:53 PM
While I think tobacco should be outlawed altogether...as long as it isn't people can feel free to give themselves lung cancer if they want....so I don't think forcing adults to go to a class like this is going to help much. Addiction is a tough thing to break., However the notion that this somehow is trampling on liberty is poppycock. Employers are allowed to make any rule they want for their employees as long as they are not discriminating based on a constitutionally protected class. There is no guaranteed right to smoke...and there is absolutely nothing in the constitution that guarantees people employment if they do. Nor are there any constitutional guarantees that employees only have to adhere to rules imposed by their employers that they personally agree with. Funny how the folks who scream about civil liberties the most are the first ones to cheer when employees are forced to take drug tests....an act which is at best constitutionally dubious. Yet forcing employees to take a smoking cessation class - not actually to stop smoking - just take the class is somehow an infringement on liberty. Ridiculous.

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