Fairfax may force employees to live healthier

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Local,Virginia,Taylor Holland

Fairfax County officials are exploring whether they can force county workers to live healthier.

Supervisors, looking for ways to reduce health care costs, on Tuesday asked County Attorney David Bobzien to determine whether they can legally require employees to quit smoking or refuse to hire anyone who smokes.

The move puts the full board behind a proposal made in October by Supervisor Gerry Hyland, D-Mount Vernon, who wondered whether the county could force smokers to enroll in smoking cessation classes. Hyland had earlier suggested that the county consider a ban on hiring smokers.

"Many people may object to these suggestions," Hyland said. "However, our goal should be to find more ways to discourage county employees from smoking, reduce our overall costs as a county, and encourage and support healthy habits."

Supervisor Michael Frey, R-Sully, also asked county staff to determine whether the board can legally regulate all "risky behaviors" of employees, not just smoking.

By broadening the possible restrictions placed on employees, the county could avoid blowback from those who would say they were discriminating against smokers, he said. "Sports teams do it," Frey added.

Supervisors unanimously approved the proposal to study whether they can regulate employees' behavior, and they expect to have a report back by the time the board's personnel committee meets next week. But not all of the supervisors think it's a good idea to control workers' actions.

"We have smokers who work for Fairfax County who are valuable employees," said board Chairwoman Sharon Bulova, an opponent of forcing workers to quit smoking. "People have a free will."

Hyland estimated that the county currently has 2,700 employees who smoke and noted that current programs to help smokers snuff their habit are extremely effective. As it stands, however, enrollment in such programs is voluntary.

Fairfax isn't alone in trying to get tough with smokers.

Montgomery County officials introduced legislation last month that would make it illegal to smoke on county property, and smoking is already prohibited in many public buildings and places across Virginia.

"This is something I think is the responsible thing to do," Hyland said, adding that personal experiences are the driving force behind his suggestions.

The Fairfax County Personnel and Reorganization Committee will meet Dec. 11 at 10 a.m. at the Government Center, located at 12000 Government Center Parkway.

tholland@washingtonexaminer.com

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