LIANE HANSEN, host:
The issue of workers health is an important one to the Scotts Miracle-Gro Company in Marysville, Ohio. But the company is caught between its own interests and the rights of its employees.
A few years ago, to bring down health care costs, Scotts built a state-of-the-art wellness center with doctors offices, a gym, and nutrition counselors to encourage employees to lose weight, lower their cholesterol and adopt other healthy habits. But Scotts also went a step further. It banned smoking, even outside the workplace. And the company says it will not hire smokers.
However, last fall Scott Rodrigues, an employee who smoked, was fired. And he has filed a discrimination lawsuit against Scotts Miracle-Gro. In order to get both sides of this story, we spoke with Harvey Schwartz, Rodrigues's lawyer. You'll hear him in a moment.
But first to Jim King, Scotts Miracle-Gro's vice president of corporate communications. We reached him at the company headquarters and he said that when employees sign up for the company's wellness program, they have to fill out a questionnaire.
Mr. JIM KING (Scotts Miracle-Gro): That health risk assessment is viewed by a medical professional and they'll look at my profile and say this red flag has popped up and this is what we think you ought to do to try to manage that.
It's not mandatory that I do what they suggest that I do. If I don't do something about it, my premium goes up by roughly $60 a month. If I choose not to take that HRA, then that means I elect to not take the HRA, which means your premium is going to be adjusted and you're going to pay $40 a month more.
HANSEN: Were the concerns though at your company when this program was being thought about and developed about actually violating the privacy rights of your employees?
Mr. KING: We weren't concerned about violating privacy rights. We wanted to make sure that our associates knew that we wouldn't. While the company funds the wellness program, the facility is run by a separate company. And we don't have access to the files. We don't have access to many parts of that building. It is run just like your normal doctor's office would be run.
HANSEN: What happens if one of your employees is unable to quit smoking? How much patience do you have with those employees who can't meet those health goals?
Mr. KING: Let me explain what we're doing as it relates to tobacco use. As we looked at the investments that we were making, our CEO looked at the issue of tobacco use and said you know what, I'm not going to underwrite the risk associated with smoking any longer. But we can make a determination of whether we hire or whether we retain that person. The law gives us the ability to do that in Ohio and about 20 other states.
So we implemented two policies. The first one we implemented was a no-hire policy in which they say we're no longer going to hire tobacco users. As it relates to existing employees, we have a policy that says we are trying to create a tobacco-free workforce. It gives us the ability to terminate associates if we choose to do that. We have not done that. We don't intend to do that.
Our intention here is to continue to work with folks to help them quit. And in those cases, the company will pay any cost related to helping that associate and their family member quit.
HANSEN: One of your former employees, Scott Rodrigues, has filed a lawsuit which is drawing attention. What are your company's concerns about this?
Mr. KING: I don't think we're overly concerned about Mr. Rodrigues's lawsuit. As I mentioned to you, we implemented a policy in March of 2006 in which we said we would no longer hire tobacco users. Mr. Rodrigues was offered a job on August the 16th, 2006, nearly four months after the policy was implemented. And when Mr. Rodrigues tested positive for nicotine, we exercised our rights under that policy.
Now prospective associates are told that the company doesn't hire tobacco users. They're told in writing that this is our policy and that letters says - and this is a quote from the letter - this offer is contingent upon the successful completion of a pre-hire screening required of all Scotts associates which includes but is not limited to a drug screen, including a nicotine test.
So that precise language was presented to Mr. Rodrigues. He agreed to those terms on October 16th of 2006. And as I said, that was four months after we had implemented the policy.
HANSEN: Would you consider driving a motorcycle, flying a plane or playing extreme sports a health risk?
Mr. KING: Not in the same way that smoking is a health risk. I mean it's pretty obvious and I think it's irrefutable that smoking is beyond just a risk. It kills. It's not something that's a genetic issue. You make a choice. Where we're drawing the line is simply on tobacco use, not beyond that.
HANSEN: How will you measure the success of your integrated wellness program?
Mr. KING: We're going to have to measure it over time. It's going to take a while to figure out whether the bet pays off. We've bet a lot here. We've made a substantial investment in this, believing that it's the right thing to do. But I think we're really confident that we're going to see benefits from what we're doing.
HANSEN: Jim King is the vice president of corporate communications and investor relations at the Scotts Miracle-Gro Company. Thank you so much for your time.
Mr. KING: Liane, it was great talking to you.
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