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...December 2005/January 2006 Issue Number 78

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 April 7-9, 2006. Phoenix, AZ. Sponsored by Women in the Fire Service. Go to www.wfsi.org for more information.

In the News

No Place Like Home

The headline read "Seven Michigan Firemen Dismissed for Sex on Duty." It wasn't the first time in the past year such a headline has appeared. Similar cases involving both male and female firefighters have been reported across the country, resulting in discipline and terminations.

I was teaching last spring when another fire department sex-on-duty scandal was unfolding, and the topic came up during the class. Most firefighters present shook their heads in disgust or disbelief at the story, but one brave soul spoke up. "I'm speaking mostly as a Devil's Advocate here," he said. "But what's wrong with having sex on duty if it's consensual and doesn't otherwise interfere with doing the job?"

It was a valid question, and one that must be raised as it appears these types of incidents will continue to occur. This firefighter reflected an attitude that almost certainly contributes to this type of behavior: It's not illegal, and if it's not hurting anyone else, why not?

I countered by asking the firefighter if he personally thought it was okay for people at work to have recreational sex while there. Forget about the fire service for a minute. Did he want his dental hygienist to be having sex during breaks from cleaning teeth, or the local grocery clerks to be sneaking into a back room between checkouts? He admitted he did not. But why? I asked him. What's wrong with it? He replied, "It's unprofessional. And they're getting paid to work, not mess around on their employer's time."

Exactly. And herein lies a fatal flaw for some firefighters; they don't see their time on duty as belonging to their employer. Some firefighters like to say that the fire station is their second home. Believing that can lead to some unfortunate expectations and outcomes.

There is no doubt that firefighting is different from most other jobs. Firefighters often spend 24 hours or longer together in the same station; they work, eat, watch TV, and sleep during a normal shift. But although firefighting is different in some ways, it is not completely different from other jobs. Firefighters are still on duty, whether they are fighting a fire or making a sandwich. The fire station, although home-like in some ways, is not the same place as a firefighter's actual home.

It's an important distinction, and one that should be made early and often throughout a firefighter's career. The fire station is not your home. The fire station is a place of employment, a place where professional responsibilities always take first priority. You don't have access to the same First Amendment rights at the fire station as you do at home. You don't have the same freedom of choice about how you will spend your time. And it is completely reasonable for employers to expect you to refrain from recreational sex while on their dime.

There is no place like home, but the fire station is not that place. Just reinforcing this idea will do much to head off many problems before they occur.

Source: The Jackson Citizen Patriot, November 2, 2005

News Brief

The Boeing Corporation will pay a $72.5 million settlement to be shared among over 17,000 female employees who joined a class action suit alleging gender discrimination. The settlement was prompted in part by company documentation which showed that women typically earned less than men when doing similar jobs. A race discrimination suit against Boeing filed by 15,000 African American employees is scheduled to go to trial in federal court this month.

Source: Business and Legal Reports, November 14, 2005

Sexual Harassment Update

New California Law Requires Anti-Harassment Training

California has a new law, Assembly Bill 1825, which mandates anti-harassment training for all supervisors beginning in January 2006. The law applies to organizations that employ or otherwise "receive the services of" 50 or more people (the implication being that independent contractors could be included in this count.) A minimum of two hours of interactive training is required for every supervisory employee every two years, and must be provided for every new supervisor within six months of hiring or promotion.

There are many questions regarding this new law. What must the training consist of? Who can do it? Who is classified as a supervisor under the law? What is the liability if an organization does not comply?

The law does provide some guidance in these areas. AB 1825 specifically identifies that training must be given on the topic of sexual harassment, although it does not necessarily limit education to only this form of workplace harassment. The new law is in addition to existing law which requires all employers to post sexual harassment information in the workplace and provide printed information on the issue. The law states that the training must include information and practical guidance regarding state and federal laws on sexual harassment, as well as practical examples aimed at instructing supervisors in the prevention of harassment, discrimination, and retaliation. 

Instructors for the classes must be those with "knowledge and expertise in the prevention of harassment, discrimination, and retaliation." They do not have to be attorneys or in-house human resources professionals. Instruction must be done in a classroom setting, or through some other "effective, interactive" means. The strong implication is that simply showing a video will not meet the requirements unless there is some opportunity for discussion or for questions to be answered.

Supervisors are defined as those who have the authority to hire, transfer, suspend, lay off, recall, promote, discharge, assign, reward or discipline other employees, or who have the responsibility to direct them, adjust their grievances or recommend action. Under this definition, fire department company officers definitely qualify as supervisors, as would many in staff positions who direct other workers.

Failure to comply with AB 1825 does not automatically result in liability for an employer, nor does compliance automatically shield an employer from liability for harassment. But it does seem likely that if employers do not provide effective or compliant training, this failure to act can certainly come back to haunt them if a harassment complaint is filed.

This new law will probably have many California employers scrambling to provide training that will be compliant, or to verify that their existing training will meet the new standards. It is hoped that employers will look past just the letter of the law to the spirit of it; to provide effective training to prevent and mitigate workplace harassment. This may mean looking beyond the most convenient sources for such training and beyond the typical problems addressed to designing training in this area that meets each organization's unique needs.

Sources: Assembly Bill 1825 retrieved from www.leginfo.ca.gov

"California's New Mandatory Harassment Training Law" by ELT and Littler Mendelson

Linda F. Willing, 2005

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