Practical Support for the Changing World at Work 
Linda F. Willing
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Grand Lake, CO
80447
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Consider This... January 2018 Issue Number 210

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 IAFF Human Relations Conference will be held January 28-31, 2018 in Orlando, FL.

The Virginia Fire Rescue Conference will be held February 21-25, 2018 in Virginia Beach.

The Conference of International Women in Fire and Emergency Services will be held in Fairfax County, VA May 24-26, 2018.

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

The Power of Apology

A former firefighter with the City of Halifax, Nova Scotia has ended her 12-year battle against gender discrimination within the department with a settlement that will include a public apology by the city. The settlement comes after years of complaints about abusive and disrespectful behavior from her male counterparts.

The settlement also includes financial compensation and a commitment from the Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency service to implement eight policy changes that she suggested. These changes cover a range of things from keeping hiring statistics to making the workplace safer for women to speak out. The Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission will monitor to ensure the fire service is abiding by the policies.

The inclusion of a public apology was a central feature of this settlement. For some it might seem trivial-- who cares if people apologize as long as policy changes are made?

But there is real power in a substantial apology. Apologies are recognition of accountability and ownership of wrongdoing. They force people to face the details and reality of what was done and publicly commit to never doing those things again. Sincere apologies can be healing for all sides of a conflict, allowing people to move on in a more positive direction. For this reason, countries coming out of years of internal strife, such as South Africa, have used the Truth and Reconciliation process as a way of moving ahead.

The Halifax firefighter was pragmatic in her assessment of the results of her case. "Gender-based violence is not going to stop because of this apology," she said. "But hopefully my struggle, the settlement, and the apology will put other employers on notice as well."

Source: The Canadian Press, December 12, 2017

News Brief

A rule that was used to justify the firing of former Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran has been determined to be unconstitutional by a federal judge. The rule, which required employees to get pre-clearance from the city before engaging in certain kinds of personal expression, was ruled by the judge to infringe on First Amendment rights. However, the court also ruled in the city's favor on other points, saying that there had not been discrimination based on religion in the firing, and that the city did not retaliate against Chief Cochran.

Source: Associated Press, December 20, 2017

 

Sexual Harassment Update

Gossip as Harassment

Andrea Schultz was a firefighter with the Greater Naples Fire Rescue Department in Florida for ten years, during which time she rose to the rank of captain. According to a recently filed lawsuit, she was also subjected to systemic harassment and retaliation in the form of false accusations during her time with the department, which ultimately led to her termination.

Among a number of complaints in the lawsuit are claims that Schultz was subjected to malicious gossip during her time on the department. Specifically, she states that her superiors falsely accused her of sexual impropriety every time she was alone with any male firefighter or officer. When she complained about these accusations and other issues, such as unwanted physical contact, she claims the department opened unwarranted investigations into her alleged actions, and later placed her on administrative leave. While on leave, Schultz says that the department began a smear campaign against her, trying to elicit statements from her coworkers that she was engaged in extramarital affairs.

The full truth of this case will come out in trial, but all women firefighters know the frustration and helplessness of dealing with workplace gossip against them. It's the easiest way to harass someone-- you only have to make up a tantalizing story, tell it to a few people, and let the rumor mill do the rest. For those who are already marginalized at work with few allies, such rumors can quickly take on a life of their own and be very hard to combat.

The problem is in proving a negative. It's like the old trick question of "Are you still beating your wife?" Both denial or affirmation are bad for the person responding. So it is with trying to fight against gossip. A person ends up on the defensive in all circumstances, trying to prove that nothing happened, trying to claim virtue against accusers who feel no responsibility to prove similar virtue in making the accusations.

It's a lose-lose situation. And when unchecked, it will most often end up as this situation has, with the loss of an experienced worker, a department divided, and the potential for big losses of both money and reputation for the organization and its larger jurisdiction.

Source: Andrea Schultz v. Greater Naples Fire Rescue District, US District Court, Middle District of Florida, Fort Myers Division.

 

 

© Linda F. Willing, 2017