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
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