Stephanie Cannon, a smoker for 18 years, said she smokes nearly a pack a day, but changed her routine after her supervisor told her “we don’t want you smelling like smoke when you come here.”
Cannon said she stopped smoking on her breaks and in her car, and she bought new work clothes. She even tried to keep her new clothes fresh by sealing them in a plastic bag and spraying them with air freshener.
Her efforts were not deemed satisfactory by the hospital, as they encouraged her to shower at work instead of at her home, and provided her with resources to quit smoking even though she wasn’t interested in quitting.
Cannon said she was even advised to “avoid my husband in the morning” because he also smokes.
Despite her efforts, Park Nicollet fired her, sparking a debate over the legality of the termination.
Park Nicollet has a strict “no smoking” policy, which clearly states that no smoking is allowed on the premise at any time. Minnesota law states that an employer cannot hire or fire an individual for engaging in a legal activity if it takes place off the premises during non-work hours, but it’s not that black and white.
Under the law, employers have the right to restrict tobacco use during non-working hours if their use creates an “occupational-related hazard”.
The American Civil Liberties Union has gotten involved in the case. Spokesman Chuck Samuelson said that the law does not offer the same protection for each individual.
“Private employers can do things that governmental agencies cannot, to their employees,” Samuelson said. “The Constitution simply does not apply in the same way. If she worked for Hennepin County or Ramsey County Hospital she would be better protected than if she worked for a private hospital, which she did.”
The matter will likely play itself out in the courtroom, but Samuelson said the case balances a delicate line between personal freedoms and public safety.
“You’ve got one person’s desire to indulge in a legal activity versus the government’s duty to protect the population as whole from known bad things (like second-hand smoke),” Samuelson says.
Mark Wernimont, an advocate for smokers’ rights, said although Cannon worked at a hospital her duties did not involve firsthand health care.
“She as a receptionist really had nothing to do with the hands-on health care,” Wernimont said. “It’s just one more nail in the coffin of freedom.”
Park Nicollet would not comment on the matter, but Cannon said she shouldn’t have to feel like an outcast for smoking on her own time.
“What I do in my home or outside of work when I’m not punching into that little clock is my business.”
Related source: KTSP.com