Practical Support for the Changing World at Work 
Linda F. Willing
P.O. Box 148
Grand Lake, CO
Home | About Us | Services | Clients | Resources | Newsletter| Archives | Contact

Consider This... November 2017 Issue Number 208

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.
Let us know what you think! If you'd like to subscribe to the newsletter, please enter your email address in the box below.

Sign up for our free newsletter,
Consider This...

enter your email address
Upcoming Events  

The IAFF Human Relations Conference will be held January 28-31, 2018 in Orlando, FL. Linda Willing will be presenting a workshop at this conference entitled "Getting Along is Part of the Job."

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

Me Too, Obviously

In the aftermath of revelations about sexual harassment in the entertainment and media industries, there was a campaign on Facebook for women to post "Me Too" as their status, to indicate that they have also experienced such treatment. I did not participate in this campaign, mainly because it seemed so obvious.

The fact is, I do not know a single woman who has not experienced sexual harassment and/or assault in her work or educational life. Not a single one.

Yet so many people, in 2017, are acting shocked-- shocked!-- that such behavior could be happening. From this, I can only conclude that they have not been paying attention for the past thirty or more years.

Women have always been vulnerable to sexual extortion-- the "sleep with me or get fired" ploy of those in positions of power. This behavior was the basis of the first law related to sexual harassment in 1980, which forbids this type of quid pro quo.

In 1986, the concept of hostile environment related to sex was codified as law. This concept quickly extended to mistreatment based on other legally protected categories, such as race, age, ethnicity, or religion.

The worst sexual harassment I experienced in my life was when I was 20 years old and working as a waitress at a high end restaurant. It was clear soon after I was hired that all waitresses were employed because one of the three married owners wanted to have sex with them, and would have sex with them, or they would be fired. I needed the job at the time, so I spent nearly two months dodging and weaving and avoiding, and then when those options ran out, I quit.

The women most vulnerable to sexual harassment or abuse are young powerless women who badly need or want the position where the harassment is taking place. The media is spending a lot of time talking about aspiring actresses and reporters, but if they want the real story, they should probably be talking to teenage girls who are working at fast food restaurants, or immigrant women who clean office buildings.

In the fire service, women are vulnerable to harassment and often silenced in the face of it due to a number of factors. They are usually isolated, often the only one in their stations or their recruit classes. They are hyper-aware of being the different one and desperately want to fit in. They may have been indoctrinated to believe that such behavior on the part of men is normal-- boys will be boys after all. The most vulnerable women in emergency services are the new recruit, the young volunteer, the teenage cadet. These young women may feel flattered by extra attention at first, and then blindsided when that attention turns coercive or abusive. And they may have no support system in place to deal with it.

The solution here is two-fold. Women need to feel empowered and supported to speak up in the face of mistreatment, and not to feel shame or guilt as the result of being a victim. This is what the "Me, Too" campaign was about.

But that is not enough. Everyone-- men, women, organizations-- need to take responsibility for stopping and preventing harassment and mistreatment. People need to have skills in effective communication and confrontation, they need to understand what policies and laws say and what their individual responsibility is, they need to know how to be allies and good listeners, they need to understand the power of their own individual example. Leaders need to lead, and those around them need to hold them accountable. Only then will this problem really be solved.


News Brief

The United States Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case in the new term related to whether workers can be required to pay fees to unions, even if they choose not be members. In the past, the Supreme Court has upheld such fees as a way for nonmembers to support their stake in collective bargaining agreements. A similar case argued in January 2016 resulted in a 4-4 tie. The addition of Justice Neil Gorsuch could change that outcome in this new case.

Source: New York Times, September 28, 2017


Sexual Harassment Update

Pregnancy is a Fact of Life

A paramedic with the Chicago Fire Department has filed a legal complaint against the department for discrimination and harassment based on pregnancy and lactation. The paramedic says that she was required to go on leave as soon as her pregnancy was known, that her leave was classified differently from other firefighters, and that she experienced discrimination and retaliation when she needed to express breast milk at work once she returned to duty post-delivery.

Employment law has developed over the years to insure that pregnant workers are treated equitably. A key U.S. Supreme Court case has established that employers cannot bar pregnant or potentially pregnant workers from what they consider to be hazardous duty if the woman is otherwise capable of performing the job duties. It has also been law since 1987 that employers may provide pregnant workers with more benefits compared to other types of off-duty conditions that may affect an employee's ability to work.

Since 2010, federal law also guarantees break time at work for nursing mothers to express breast milk and mandates that a private space be provided for this function. The plaintiff in the Chicago case claims that she was denied this accommodation and experienced retaliation when she requested it.

Accommodating pregnant and nursing workers may not be easy but it is the law, and all employers-- including fire departments-- need to figure out how to do it.

Source: Spriesch v. Chicago





© Linda F. Willing, 2017