Practical Support for the Changing World at Work 
Linda F. Willing
P.O. Box 148
Grand Lake, CO
80447
970-627-3732
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Consider This... February/March 2002 Issue Number 32

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

Leadership Training Seminar: March 8-10, 2002, San Diego Bahia Resort. Sponsored by Women in the Fire Service. For more information call 608-233-4879 or email info@wfsi.org.

FDIC West: April 28-May 2 at the Sacramento Convention Center. Call 888-299-8016 for more information.

National Conference of Women in Policing: April 30- May 4, Washington DC. Check www.womenandpolicing.org for more details.

Staff and Command School presented by Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute, May 1-8 at the Adams Mark Hotel, Dallas, TX. Linda Willing will be on the faculty for this program. Go to www.mfri.org for more information about the course.

In the News

Promotion Problems

What if you gave a promotional test and nobody came? Increasingly, this is the situation many fire departments are facing.

Last year, the Corpus Christi Fire Department opened the promotional process for the rank of Firefighter II- Paramedic six times. At no time did the number of applicants satisfy civil service rules that require three firefighters per job opening. Each subsequent promotional process brought in fewer candidates. By the end of the year, there were 14 openings for the position, and only one firefighter signed up to take the test.

The situation in Corpus Christi is not unique. Around the country, fire departments are having increasing trouble recruiting qualified candidates to test for promotional positions. In particular, there has been decreasing interest in the positions of paramedic and battalion chief.

Hiring and retaining qualified paramedics is a constant challenge for many fire departments. In Corpus Christi, union president Carlos Torres speculated that the problem was due to wages and call volume. Paramedic units usually run more calls than engine or truck companies, and many of those calls come in after midnight. And although paramedics in Corpus Christi get incentive pay for the position, to many the slight pay increase just doesn't justify the added responsibility and aggravation of the job. "Nobody wants it," said one firefighter-paramedic who was considering taking a demotion to get out of riding the ambulance.

Many fire departments are seeing similar trends when it comes to promotion to battalion chief, or a similar first-level management position. A common refrain of "It's just not worth it" summarizes why fewer people aspire to promote to these ranks.

There is no question that becoming a paramedic or a battalion chief greatly increases the challenges and responsibilities employees must handle. Most departments want their best and brightest workers to enter these ranks. It is disheartening when many of these talented people choose to cap their careers at lower ranks.

How can departments change this damaging trend? Clearly, employees who promote must feel there are rewards which go along with added work and responsibility. But rewards and incentives come in many forms, and departments should be careful to choose rewards that encourage the desired outcome.

Case in point: one fire department has increased paramedic pay so dramatically that no one considers ever leaving the position. This department has the opposite problem as Corpus Christi: even paramedics who are burned out and need a break from the position will not leave it because they cannot afford the large drop in pay that would result.

What can a department do to encourage its employees to get involved at all levels, and continue that involvement through timely promotion? These questions will be discussed in this space next month.

Source: "Firefighters Leery of Promotions" by Mary Moreno at caller.com.

News Brief

The New York City Fire Department has promoted its first African-American woman to the rank of lieutenant. Ella McNair joined the department in 1982. She is one of only 25 women on a department of 11,500 members, and one of just six black women among the ranks. Lt. McNair joins four other women as officers on the FDNY.

Source: New York Times, January 30, 2002.

Sexual Harassment Update

Limits on Religious Expression in the Workplace

Elizabeth Anderson, an employee at USF Logistics, was a deeply religious woman who liked to tell her co-workers to "Have a blessed day." She also often signed her in-house correspondence in this way. This was not a problem until Ms. Anderson started using the phrase with external clients, and one complained that he thought it was inappropriate. Ms. Anderson was told by her supervisors not to use the phrase with clients and vendors, but no limit was put on her using it with co-workers. Ms. Anderson stopped using the phrase with clients for awhile, and then began again despite reprimands from her supervisors. When she was told that her continued insistence on telling clients to "Have a blessed day" could lead to discipline, she sued, saying that she was being discriminated against under Title VII's protection based on religion.

Ms. Anderson did not succeed with her lawsuit. The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that her employer had reasonably accommodated her religious beliefs in the workplace, and that her insistence on using the phrase in question was a personal choice, not a religious requirement. The court said, "Title VII requires reasonable accommodation, not satisfaction of an employee's every desire."

In a related case, two different women who were employees of the State of Connecticut chose to proselytize their religious beliefs to clients while at work. Both were disciplined for doing so, and both brought suit against the state for discrimination based on religion. In a combined decision on appeal, the court found similarly to the case of Anderson v. USF Logistics. The court stated that nothing in the women's religious beliefs forced them to proselytize while at work. In addition, one of the plaintiffs was a sign language interpreter who was specifically charged through her job description not to add, embellish or delete information while interpreting. The court found that the state may reasonably place restrictions on the appellants' ability to speak about religion with clients without infringing on their constitutional rights.

Both these cases illustrate that there is a fine but clear line between constitutionally protected freedom of religion, and inappropriate workplace behavior that may justifiably lead to discipline. Employers who reasonably accommodate their employees' religious beliefs may also impose limits on how those beliefs are expressed in the workplace.

Sources: Anderson v. USF Logistics, 7th Circuit Court of Appeals
            
Quental v. State of Connecticut, 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals

© Linda F. Willing, 2002

 

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