- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 5, 2005

In last year’s remake of the 1970s classic science fiction file, “The Stepford Wives,” a group of techno-weirdos set out to transform imperfect women into perfect wives. Of course, the plan fails because of… well, a lot of reasons.

But the point is, the world remains as full of weirdos today seeking to create the perfect person as when Pygmalion tried many centuries ago. Now, the “Stepford Search” has come to corporate America.

Weyco Inc., a Michigan company, has decided to fire any employee who smokes. Not just any employee who smokes on the job. Any employee who smokes anywhere, anytime, anyhow. Why? To help the employees make healthful life choices and become better persons; to help the employees “manage their health care.”

How does the company ensure its employees remain truly and permanently “smoke free?” Mandatory “drug” tests. If traces of the “devil weed” tobacco are found, the hapless employee who thought he or she lived in a free country — one in which a citizen could practice such horrible habits as lighting up a cigarette or cigar in the “privacy” of his or her home — is summarily fired.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the decades of my misspent youth, we harbored the illusion such menaces as nuclear war or communist invasion were the real enemies of freedom. How wrong we were. The good folks running America just four or five decades later, including the Weyco Gestapo, know the real enemy of man is not the trivial nuclear holocaust, but smoking. And they will leave no freedom unturned in their zeal to root it out wherever it might still lurk.

Of course, the absurd lengths to which Weyco Inc. is going to attack a problem that clearly is none of its business, is exceeded only by the fact this “corporation” is allowed — at least thus far — to carry out its crusade without penalty.

Federal laws strictly regulate the extent corporations may use polygraphs in hiring and firing decisions, for example. And there are strict legal limits on how companies may deal with employees found using mind-altering drugs. But companies apparently are free to arbitrarily test employees for tobacco use and terminate them summarily for so doing. Obviously, off-duty smoking by its employees is more important to Weyco corporate leaders than employee theft or cocaine use.

How far this nonsense will be allowed to go is uncertain. Smokers are held in such low regard by government and the law these days, it is hard to imagine anyone in authority defending former Weyco employees.

But if companies are allowed to do what this company is doing, it is easy to imagine other “undesirable” employee activities to which the corporate watchdogs will turn their attention in their never-ending search for the perfect, Stepford employee.

Tests will be given to determine if any employees are having improper sexual relations. After all, unhealthy or unlawful sex practices can lead to “unhealthy life choices,” too.

And we’re bombarded about how “fat” America is becoming. A Texas state legislator has even a law to require that schools include on report cards a student’s “BMI,” or “Body Mass Index,” to prod students and their families to lose weight.

Any overweight employees at Weyco had better watch out. Since bad “food choices” are the root cause of much obesity, the corporate watchdogs will likely soon require that employees take cholesterol tests. And any with an unacceptably high reading will be — you guessed it — fired.

We also know partying too hard will cause employees to become tired or run down at work, unable to operate Weyco’s phones and computers at peak efficiency. Sleep tests will therefore be required to ensure all Weyco employees get the optimal amount of sleep each night.

Alcohol consumption at any time and in any amount will also be rooted out by the Weyco do-gooders; tests will determine who had a nip of wine, or cracked a brewski the night before.

Since one beer leads to two, and pretty soon that social drinker might become a full-fledged alcoholic, the company is only serving the public good by identifying such “gateway drinkers” and dumping them before the real trouble begins.

I doubt the Weyco will ever meet its goal of a perfect, Stepford work force — every employee with the precise and correct BMI, no smokers, no drinkers, no adulterers, no droopy eyelids and no sickness. But I am sure that won’t slow the effort.

And if they achieve their goals, they will have a work force of automatons. But maybe that’s what America wants these days.

Bob Barr, a former Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Georgia, is a columnist for United Press International.

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