Revisiting Employer vs Employee Rights
Whenever I post an article proposing that employers should not be able tell employees how to live while they are out of the office, I invariably get a comment along the lines of:
"Employers should be able to offer employment on their own terms, and if the employees don't like it they can quit."
My recent post "2 Women Fired for Having Nicotine in Blood", was no exception to this rule. In the post I complained about Weyco terminating employees who smoked while "off the clock", and how they enforced this rule via mandatory blood tests. Fellow LLP member, The Unrepentant Individual, disagreed with me in his post. Here’s a quote:
How about, why don’t you let the owner of Weyco decide who he does and does not want to employ, based upon the criteria he determines. This isn’t government here, nobody is forcing these employees to work for Weyco. He has in no way infringed upon their “rights”, because the only right here is the right of contract.If we take this logic to the farthest extreme, the so called “right of contract” would trump basic human rights. What if Weyco decided to fire all employees who have not been surgically sterilized in order to make sure that childcare issues never impacted productivity? What if all staff were required to vote only for political candidates that favored Weyco’s industry? How about requiring them to maintain a small shrine to a certain god both in their work area and in their homes? If the "right of contract" is all that matters, such abominations would be considered acceptable.
If these examples are too extreme, consider the inverse of the smoking issue: If it's ok for the employer to forbid nicotine in the employees' blood, wouldn't that imply that it's also ok for Weyco to require that the employees always have nicotine in their blood? Most people are non-smokers, and thus probably find it easy to side with anyone who forbids smoking. What if the tables were turned? Would people still side with the employer if he fired non-smokers instead and only kept the smokers?
I believe employers pay employees for the successful completion of units of work, whatever that work may be. As long as staff correctly produce the required units of work and do not otherwise disrupt business, they should be left alone. I don’t mind if an employer bans smoking in the office, or if they fire individual smokers because their frequent smoke breaks make them unproductive. I do, however, object if the employer fires people just because they have a legal and non-impairing substance in their blood.
If we take any isolated case and let the employer do as they please, the employees can indeed vote with their feet. If enough employees quit, the employer will go out of business. This system won’t work, however, if all employers offer equally miserable terms and workers have nowhere else to go (look at the beginnings of the industrial age). Just because an employee agrees to be exploited doesn’t make it right to exploit the employee. If that were the case, it would be ok for pedophiles to engage in sex with children as long as the victims don’t know enough to object. While I object to minimum wage laws and don’t like undue restrictions on employers, I do draw the line at letting employers intrude upon the personal lives of employees.