FAIRFAX, Va. - Can a county regulate risky behavior by its employees, like smoking?
Fairfax County supervisors would like to try. The county has already dismissed a proposed requirement that new hires be non-smokers. But a proposal to mandate smoking cessation classes for employees is still under consideration.
The proposal, from Supervisor Gerry Hyland, D-Mount Vernon, had suggested the rule as a way of reducing the county's health care costs.
But the hiring requirement was removed from consideration after County Attorney David Bobzien issued a memo indicating such a requirement would violate Virginia law.
"People can't be forced to stop smoking," says Board of Supervisors Chair Sharon Bulova.
Bulova says she'd like to see a voluntary program to help workers stop smoking as part of the county's overall wellness plan in their health coverage.
But Hyland still wants to go a bit further and make classes mandatory for any of the county's 13,000 employees who smoke.
"If that person is hired we could require them to take a class that would help them stop smoking," says Hyland.
The difference is they would not actually have to kick the habit to be hired or to keep their jobs.
The county may also look at trying to ban smoking outside of county buildings. But under state law, the county would need permission to do that from the Virginia General Assembly.
Hyland says they will ask the county's delegation in Richmond to look into that.
The discussion is part of the county's overall review of the employee health care plan that has to be adjusted to meet new requirements under the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that take effect in 2014.
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