Practical Support for the Changing World at Work 
Linda F. Willing
P.O. Box 148
Grand Lake, CO
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Consider This... September 2019 Issue Number 230

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.

I hope that you find the information here useful and provocative.
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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

Getting Out Ahead of Social Media

When three new recruits with the Baltimore County Fire Department stood but did not salute during the national anthem at their graduation ceremony, many on social media were ready to pile on. As is all too common these days, uninformed outsiders to the situation had plenty to say about the individual firefighters and their department, none of it good.

But then the department quickly stepped in and made an official statement. The three members of the 113th recruit class who did not salute are Jehovah’s Witnesses and as such, are prohibited from displays of national allegiance. "This is certainly not the first time that we’ve had Jehovah’s Witnesses as fire department members. And it has absolutely no bearing on their service to Baltimore County."

And that was pretty much the end of the issue.

The tide turned. A department Facebook post describing the incident at the graduation ceremony was met largely with shows of support, and community members said they were glad the fire department was respecting the three graduates. The majority of comments said that a person’s faith should not matter when they are performing public service.

Baltimore County Fire recognized that even when criticism may seem stupid or irrelevant, in the age of social media, it is important to get out in front of such situations with unequivocal statements. That's what happened in this case, turning a potential media debacle into a non-issue. And now everyone can focus on things that are actually important.

Source: The Baltimore Sun, July 26, 2019


News Brief

New York state legislators have passed a bill that will extend age limits for eligibility to become a member of the FDNY. The new law specifically affects military veterans: once a candidate reaches age 29 and then joins the military, he or she has a seven-year window — formerly six — to join the FDNY. The law was inspired by a former Navy SEAL who missed the former age cutoff by six months.

Source: New York Post, June 20, 2019


Sexual Harassment Update

Beards and Beyond

Beards are once again in the news, this time with a lawsuit filed by an FDNY firefighter who alleges religious discrimination and disparate treatment by the department related to his beard. Another case still pending with the FDNY is one where two firefighters say they were unfairly forced to shave beards that they maintained for health reasons.

Steven Daniel, a Muslim firefighter with the FDNY claims he was demoted due to having facial hair and ultimately forced to shave. A 13 year veteran of the department, Daniel claims he worked for years with close-cropped facial hair, with the department's approval. During that time, he also passed several fit tests for SCBA.

However, in May 2018 Daniel was informed that the department would no longer grant accommodations to its facial hair policy, the lawsuit says. Daniel was pulled out of the firehouse and put on administrative duty when he initially declined to shave, meaning he could not earn promotions or overtime pay, according to the complaint.

This case and others like it will make their way through the legal system. At least one other firefighter has lost such a case. But the complaint does bring up issues about grooming policies generally.

Policies against facial hair for firefighters are usually linked to guidelines written to insure a seal on an SCBA mask. This is an important safety concern. But if someone's grooming choice does not affect any safety standards, as Daniel is claiming, then are such policies still valid?

Employers have the legal right to impose many grooming and dress standards on their workers. Consider the case of the woman who was a successful and popular bartender in Reno who was fired for her personal preference not to wear makeup after 25 years on the job. The court upheld her employer's right to insist on their grooming standards, even if they had no effect at all on job performance.

Fire departments have the right to prohibit grooming choices like beards and tattoos simply because they don't like them. But if those prohibitions are not linked to necessity and safety in the workplace, and they violate health or religious needs of an individual, then it is possible that the courts might have something to say about it.

Source: patch.com, August 29, 2019


© Linda F. Willing, 2019