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Fairfax County Could Require Stop-Smoking Classes for Employees

Such classes would be within the county's authority.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors could require county employees to enroll in stop-smoking classes, but requiring them to actually go cold turkey is against the law, according a recent memo from the County Attorney.

Prior to the Board’s Personnel Committee meeting today, County Attorney David Bobzien informed Supervisors in a Dec. 7 memo that they could not legally require workers to “pass” any such course that would discourage tobacco use.

Supervisor Gerry Hyland (D-Mount Vernon) brought the issue up before the Board in October and requested last week that county staff look into the legality of smoking restrictions on employees and county property.

“The County may require its employees to participate in smoking cessation courses just as it may require its employees to take training on other topics that may advance job skills or the health and well-being of those employees who participate,” Bobzien wrote. But he also stressed that Virginia law “does not permit the County to require employees discontinue smoking after such training.”

Aside from required stop-smoking courses, Hyland asked if an applicant’s smoking habit could be considered during hiring, if it could be a condition of employment, if smoking on county property could be banned altogether, and if the county could regulate general “risky behavior.”

But the news for Hyland’s cause isn’t good. According to Bobzien’s memo, the answer to the questions above is “no.”

Virginia law prohibits the County from weighing smoking in employment decisions, Bobzien wrote.

In 2009, the Board succeeded in banning smoking under bus shelters, but extending that ban to parks and school areas would require the state to sign off as well.

Bobzien also noted that county employees are free to participate in risky behavior, including “individual diet choices and participation in active sports.”

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Board Chairman Sharon Bulova has made it clear that she won’t stand for required training of county employees.

“I would object to any kind of forced or required training to get people to stop smoking,” Bulova said in a statement. “Smoking is a very unhealthy habit, but it is also an addiction that is hard to kick. A person must be ready and willing to change their behavior and can’t be forced into it.”

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