January 08, 2020

Smoking Green Eggs and Ham?

Dr. Suess’ book title left many of us (or was it just me) perplexed. Was the ham green, too? Or, was it just the eggs? Did the adjective “green” modify both nouns or just the eggs?

HR professionals, business owners and managers face the same challenge when crafting policies. The nuance can be subtle. But these distinctions can be critical when making a policy that conveys what you intend and nothing that you don’t.

U-Haul recently made the headlines when they announced their plan to not hire cigarette smokers (not very inclusive but that’s a story for another day). The move was applauded by many and jeered by some (and some more).

Regardless of the employer’s intent, the American Lung Association reports that at least 29 states and DC have laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of use of tobacco outside of employment. Some expressly include the use of tobacco. Some refer to smoking.

Take Rhode Island as an example. The state law prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of an individual “smoking or using tobacco products outside the course of his or her employment.” That language presents the green eggs and ham dilemma of a different kind. Does “smoking” stand alone and refer to smoking anything, including and not limited to hemp, marijuana or vaping products? Or does it refer only to the smoking of tobacco products?

So, what’s the point?  Shape public policy. Review pending state and local bills before they become law. Ask your legislators about the intent and provide clarifying language where there are mixed messages.

And, speaking of vaping, have you heard the latest. E-cigarettes’ fall from grace is hitting bottom. The Associated Press reported that, “a judge has blocked New York state from enforcing an executive order banning flavored vaping products.” The beat goes on. Stay tuned.

NOTE: For those who care, when an adjective precedes a string of nouns, it is generally interpreted to modify all the nouns. If Dr. Seuss intended for only the eggs to be green, the title might have been, “Ham and Green Eggs.”