Sheriff won't hire smokers
Rising workersâ€™ compensation and health care costs is prompting San Mateo County Sheriff Don Horsley to put a ban on hiring smokers.
If your lifestyle contributes to a disability, Iâ€™m sorry about that. But I donâ€™t think the tax payers should pay, said Horsley.
Since smoking is known to cause numerous health problems, Horsley said the decision to not hire smokers is an economical move that could save the county a lot of money in workersâ€™ compensation costs each year.
The idea came to him after the Sheriffâ€™s Department had to settle a $90,000 workersâ€™ compensation claim with a retired employee. The retiree developed lung cancer and claimed it was the result of secondhand smoke inhaled while on the job. He filed for compensation despite the fact that he smoked two packs of cigarettes a day for 40 years, said Horsley.
Another similar claim was recently filed and the department is bracing for more in the near future. The department is currently facing a second-hand smoking claim from the family of a former employee who smoked and died of cancer, said Horsley.
Weâ€™ve had a number of people who had heart problems and cancer smoking is contributing to that, said Horsley. You as a tax payer not only pay for them to be off of work for a whole year with pay and benefits, but you pay for their health care for the rest of their lives.
Over the past three years, the department spent $6 million on workersâ€™ compensation claims seeking $50,000 or more. The entire amount of money the department paid out for all workersâ€™ compensation claims over the last three years is between $6 million and $8 million, said Horsley.
Of the 600 people the department employs, Horsley doesnâ€™t know exactly how many smoke. However, he said the number is decreasing because younger recruits usually donâ€™t smoke. Current employees will not be fired, but Horsley hopes the policy sends a strong message.
It communicates a strong value to people we do have that we donâ€™t want them to smoke, said Horsley.
Horsley even considered enacting an incentive program that would give preference for promotions and bonuses to non-smokers. However, he wonâ€™t be pursuing that because similar programs have failed in the past.
Horsley doesnâ€™t see the new policy as discrimination. The country already has height and weight requirements to ensure healthy deputies are available to chase down criminals. Smoking affects performance in the same way height and weight can, said Horsley.
He discussed the idea with the head of the Deputy Sheriff's Association and admits itâ€™s not well received. Representatives from the association could not be reached for comment.
No policy has officially been put in place, but Horsley is working on a letter to both the County Counsel and the Human Resources Department. County Counsel Tom Casey did not return calls to his office Friday afternoon.