Practical Support for the Changing World at Work 
Linda F. Willing
P.O. Box 148
Grand Lake, CO
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Consider This... February 2019 Issue Number 223

Is a monthly electronic newsletter which links current events and issues to the daily challenges faced by fire and emergency services managers. Current topics in the areas of leadership development, workplace diversity, change management, and conflict resolution will be discussed.

We hope that you find the information here useful and provocative.
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Upcoming Events  

The Virginia Fire Chiefs Association annual conference will take place February 20-24, 2019 in Virginia Beach. Linda Willing will be presenting workshops entitled "Building Character in the 21st Century Fire Service" and "Professionalism: It's Not About Getting Paid."

Now available! On the Line: Women Firefighters Tell Their Stories by Linda F. Willing. This book features interviews with over 35 women firefighters from the United States and Canada. The book is available from major online booksellers, and signed copies may be ordered through this website.


In the News

Beyond the Locker Room

The headline read "City Review Finds Pervasive 'Locker Room Talk' in Boston Firehouse." The article goes on to say that problems such as discrimination, harassment, retaliation, favoritism, resistance to change, and a culture of going along to get along exist or have existed within the department.

But the problem is "locker room talk"? Really?

Using a euphemism like "locker room talk" serves to diminish what serious underlying issues exist within organizations. It brings up images of guys just being guys among themselves, doing no real harm. I mean, it's just talk, right? Stop being so sensitive!

Discrimination, harassment, bullying, intimidation, and exclusion are deep problems of organizational culture that may be reflected in how people talk as well as how they behave in other ways in the workplace. It does no one any good to lump such complex issues under a superficial heading like "locker room talk." Doing so just gives permission to those who resist change of any kind, and who may be perpetuating the underlying problems, to dig in further. Complaining about how guys talk to each other? How ridiculously PC!

It is hard to do a clear-eyed assessment of one's own organization. Culture is like the air we breathe-- it is part of us but often impossible to see. Most people don't think at all about culture until something happens to disrupt it. At that point, casualties may occur and people tend to close ranks, further discouraging positive change.

Anything an organization can do to be proactive when it comes to cultural change will pay off many times over when that change is put to the test. The first step is to make sure you are talking about what really matters.

Source: The Boston Globe, January 8, 2019


News Brief

The U.S. Supreme Court has granted the Trump administration’s request to allow for exclusion of most transgender people from serving in the military while cases challenging that policy make their way to the high court. The current policy is a reversal of a 2016 decision by the Obama administration that opened the military to transgender service members.

Source: The New York Times, January 22, 2019


Sexual Harassment Update

What About HIPAA?

Two Ohio firefighter-paramedics have been suspended for taking photographs of a medical patient and sending them to others without the patient's permission. According to news reports, a firefighter with eight years experience took the photos and video and sent them to another firefighter who then distributed them to others.

The firefighters were disciplined under a department rule "defining good behavior." But what about HIPAA?

HIPAA stands for Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, a federal law passed in 1996. The purpose of this law was to develop regulations protecting the privacy and security of certain health information. Specifically, the law protects patient's privacy for medical information that is gathered in person, or stored or transferred in hard copy or digital forms.

HIPAA applies to all health care providers, including firefighters and paramedics, and addresses issues of both privacy and security for patients. Protected health information (PHI) includes:

• the individual’s past, present or future physical or mental health or condition,

• the provision of health care to the individual, or

• the past, present, or future payment for the provision of health care to the individual, and that identifies the individual or for which there is a reasonable basis to believe can be used to identify the individual.

It should be noted that HIPAA applies only to health care providers and not citizens at large. Therefore, the sometimes heard claim that "You're violating HIPAA!" to bystanders taking video on their phones is usually not valid.

But the law is applicable to those in a position of trust to provide health care services, which paramedics clearly do. Taking pictures of a patient and passing them around on social media is almost certainly a violation of HIPAA-- a breach of federal law. The firefighters were lucky they were only suspended for their actions.

Sources: and The Columbus Dispatch, December 18, 2018

© Linda F. Willing, 2019