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Employment Today™


Dear Kathryn:

CT employers are following the whackos of California faster than I can say "Jack Robinson". While my employer ignores our grossly obese or prescription drug dependent employee's it's those who cigarette smoke on company grounds outside that they find really repulsive.

My employer deems cigarette smoking a "drug addiction" as nicotine is a "narcotic", and has prohibited smoking outside on company grounds. This latest rule announced on our company intranet, states that no smoking will be allowed on company grounds and that smokers are required to take part in a "quit smoking" program sponsored by our company. They say an increase in our medical benefit cost has prompted this action. In addition, management has been saying that no smokers will be hired in the future in order to contain medical insurance costs. What about the corn-chip-stuffed, overweight slobs who cause our medical costs to skyrocket? How come they're not required to join Weightwatchers? How about the medical costs that "emotionally-fragile" employees run up with their endless prescriptions of valium and percocet?

I feel my employer is discriminating against smokers while these other groups of employees-- much more of a potential liability to our insurance costs-- are being coddled. Where are the legal rights of smokers in the workplace?

PAUL T., Vernon, CT

Dear Paul:

Well, you sure don't need a punching bag to let off steam-plenty was dispelled when you penned your letter.

Henry Zaccardi of Shipman & Goodwin quotes CT Statute 31-40s which states you can light up on your own time, outside of property that doesn't prohibit smoking and your employer can't do anything about it. While a CT employer can require you to take part in a "quit-smoking" program during paid, work hours, they can't dictate what you do on your own hours, off-company premises.

Now a Connecticut employer can have policy of not hiring smokers. This policy would not be considered discriminatory as smoking is not a protected activity as, for example, free speech which is a right guaranteed under our Constitution.

As to your own personal situation and your company's smoking regulations, deal with it. The rule of no smoking outside on company's private property has become more prevalent and it's getting to be slim pickings trying to find employers that have different regulations.

Dear Kathryn:

I'm coming up for retirement in the next few years and am expecting to get shafted by the employer I've served for twenty-two years. Some of my former coworkers are telling me that they're not getting the pension amount they had figured and not getting any satisfactory answers from human resources. In anticipation of being labeled a lamb and also getting slaughtered, what can I do to make sure I get the pension I'm owed? I'm going to need every dollar that should be coming to me.

In addition to what I've explained, my company's going through a merger and the grapevine gossip says the new pension plan is lousy. What's my protection if the new plan isn't as good as what my current plan is? I'm not up for this much chaos and confrontation at 60!

STEVE D., Trenton, NJ

Dear Steve:

You're old enough and wise enough to know that chaos and confrontation never subside. You just get better at dealing with it as you gain the experience that leads to wisdom.

As to your former co-workers pension headaches-they're not alone in their bad experiences as a recent Senate hearing proved. That hearing showed benefits were understated for over 15% of all pension recipients! With mergers on the rise, that number is growing as we discuss this.

Waste not a minute, run through this checklist and bring your conclusions to personnel now! Don't wait until your last day of employment. +Your pension benefit should factor in all of your compensation. Overtime pay and bonuses are frequently excluded-legally, that's not allowed. Check these figures with human resources as to what their records show. +If your coworkers earned the same income as you, worked for the employer for the same time period and they have a different pension amount, find out why.

+Ask the personnel department for a statement as to just how the pension will be calculated. Many companies are converting traditional plans to cash balance plans. This can be complicated for regular folks like us to easily analyze. It might be necessary that you hire a professional to review the pension details. While the professional consultant doesn't come cheap, the outcome can affect the pension you'll be relying on for many years.

I checked with my pension experts and they say if the merger goes through, you're in good shape as to your earned benefits regardless of the new company's plan. Even if the new employer terminates your current plan, all participants are 100% vested and eligible for their total accrued benefits. Your pension amount earned thus far won't be altered. Get a written statement now, (before the merger) to make sure the new company's records are in line with what you're owed.

Good luck.

Dear Kathryn:

What's the deal on reviewing my personnel file? I'm planning on leaving the company I'm working for soon, and know that there is a lot of stuff in there that I disagree with. I also don't want any potential employer to know what's in there. Can I get my file when I leave?

RUTH Y., Middletown, CT

Dear Ruth:

You can legally request to examine your personnel file as well as get a copy. Your employer cannot release anything other than dates of employment to potential employers without your permission. As to your taking your personnel file so that it no longer remains in your current employer's hands, forget it. Just a copy of it that your employer can charge you for is all that you can legally expect.