Talking about the importance of staying abreast of current legislation, practices



You might remember that I had some random thoughts that I wrote about in my last column just before I went on vacation. For the first couple of days while I was on vacation, the thoughts kept popping into my head. Fortunately, my attention was eventually focused on the Pacific Ocean, quaint little shops and doing nothing. I did, however, make note of a couple of the thoughts so I could pursue them upon my return to work.

The first item I looked into was what I should do if an employee comes to me and tells me that he or she went to California, got married to his or her same-sex partner and now wants to add him or her to our benefit plan. I know that same-sex marriage isn’t legal here in Nevada, but I wasn’t sure how to address the situation. I am familiar with the federal DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman. I also know that generally whichever law, be it federal or state, is of greater benefit to an employee is the law that you should adhere to. But I certainly can’t ascertain which of those laws is best for a specific employee.

Washington is one of the states with a law recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other states, such as California or Massachusetts. On the other hand, about 30 states specifically reject same-sex marriages. And some states have added the DOMA to their constitutions.

Employers can pick and choose a benefits package that the employer feels is best for their work force. Therefore, you can voluntarily extend spousal benefits to same-gender spouses if you choose. If you are doing business in a state that prohibits same-sex discrimination, that might be the way to go. Then again, if the company that writes your insurance has limitations or prohibitions, that won’t work.

Because of contradictions that this research [on the question of benefits for same-sex married partners] uncovered. I found that I needed to ask a lot more questions, formulate a policy and run all of that by our legal counsel. That is where I am now and what I suggest you do, if you aren’t already ahead of me with this question. It just might be something you’re asked in the future.

Smoking gun

Smoking policy came to mind when we were walking on a beach in Morro Bay, California. A big sign tells everyone that there is no smoking on the beach. I was amazed, and frankly, thrilled. I don’t smoke and in the past found it offensive when walking the beach, searching for shells, I’d find cigarette butts instead. I would be interested to know how they enforce that no smoking policy.

That brought to mind the smoking conundrum we all face. My thoughts drifted to Weyco, the company in Michigan that, in 2005, established a totally no-smoking facility and was forced to fire some employees for failing to follow the policy. I believe a good number of businesses, including casinos, of course, have experienced the “smoke break” phenomenon, in which employees who smoke seem to feel they are entitled to extra breaks so they can smoke. The facts prove that employees who smoke take more time off work than non-smokers. The facts also prove that non-smokers are healthier than smokers and don’t use their insurance as much, which results in the smokers increasing the cost of group insurance premiums. So, I wondered about refusing to hire smokers and if asking an applicant if he or she smokes is a protected question. 

I found out that Nevada has a law that protects smokers. It was written to protect all employees from losing their jobs because they participated in a legal activity while off work. There are about 30 states that have similar laws; Michigan was not one of them, which is why Weyco could establish the policy.

But there is still the productivity question. Employees are entitled to a half-hour break and two 10-minute breaks in an eight-hour shift. That doesn’t say six five-minute smoke breaks. Monitoring breaks and dispensing the usual corrective discipline for infractions is a solution. Offering smoking cessation incentives is another. I’m still not sure if asking the smoking question is forbidden, but I probably won’t ask it. This is another policy to run by our legal counsel.

I enjoyed my time away. I was thrilled when I realized at last that my mind was no longer on work. My 24-year anniversary at the casino passed while I was gone. I suppose you could make a case that I am a dedicated employee. I think there just might be a correlation there.