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... August 2017 Issue Number 205

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.

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

Why is On-duty Sex So Bad?

A fire department in Massachusetts recently imposed discipline on four members for engaging in sexual activity while on duty. The discipline included lengthy suspensions and at least one demotion. Those involved included one officer, two firefighters, and a dispatcher.

This is not the first time such behavior has made the news. And unfortunately, it almost certainly won't be the last.

News accounts give the impression that the activity was probably consensual. And there was no evidence that response capability was compromised because of it.

So some might ask, what's the problem? This question has been raised during classes I have taught on sexual harassment. If everyone is okay with it, and service doesn't suffer, what difference does it make?

I sometimes respond by asking how that person would feel if the hygienist and dentist were having a quickie in the backroom while you're waiting to have your teeth cleaned. Would that be okay?

Everyone responds the same. It's not okay. It's unprofessional, not to mention the "ick" factor.

And that is the most essential problem. You're at work, not at home. You're expected to be focused on the job. Your employer can make reasonable demands on you in the workplace, and not having recreational sex on duty certainly qualifies as a reasonable demand.

The town manager put it well. He said the situation "has been a significant drain of resources and attention from the more important business of the town."

When I looked up this town's fire department online, news articles about the scandal were the first thing that came up. In the foreseeable future, this situation will be what this fire department is known for, not its response capability, not the admirable actions of the majority of its members, but the selfish, unprofessional acts of four people.

This is never okay. And no one should stand for it.

Source: The Lowell Sun, June 21, 2017

 

News Brief

The City of San Francisco has agreed to pay $375,000 to settle a legal claim filed by a former Fire Department administrative analyst who said she was sexually harassed by a department commander, starting after she was hired in 2013. The officer, an assistant deputy chief of the department, resigned last October.

Source: www.sfgate.com, June 29, 2017

 

Sexual Harassment Update

Rank and Responsibility

In 2013, Kevin Buker, a Howard County, Maryland battalion chief, was terminated from employment as a result of a series of social media posts which the department said violated its social media policy. The chief's original posting inspired others to respond in ways that included profanity and racial slurs. The chief removed the original post, but also complained publicly about the policy, saying it was "in line with the liberal socialist agenda" of the county, and that his First Amendment rights were violated.

He subsequently sued the county, but at the district court level summary judgment was granted to the employer. When Mr. Buker appealed to the Fourth Circuit Court, they affirmed the lower court judgment.

There is no doubt that social media policies can be problematic, and there have been cases where courts have struck them down as being too intrusive on First Amendment rights. But the notoriously conservative Fourth Circuit did not see it that way in this case.

There appear to be two significant factors that influenced their decision. First, the original posting was made while on duty. But even more important was the court's consideration of Mr. Buker's role within the department.

Several department members saw the original posting and forwarded it up the line to an assistant chief with the comment, "Chief, not sure this is something that should be displayed from one of our battalion chiefs." In terminating Mr. Buker's employment, the department cited a "failure to grasp the impact and implications of the comments on Plaintiff's leadership position within the Department as a Battalion Chief, in which Plaintiff was responsible for enforcing Department policies and taking appropriate action for violations of those policies by the people he supervised."

In its decision, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals stated, "Courts have long recognized that the expressive activities of a highly placed supervisory employee will be more disruptive to the operation of the workplace than similar activity by a low level employee with little authority or discretion." The court also noted, "The record is rife with observations of how Plaintiff's Facebook activity, subsequent to [the assistant chief's] request that Plaintiff remove any offending posts, disregarded and upset the chain of command upon which the Department relies."

Source: Kevin Patrick Buker v. Howard County Chief William Goddard III, John Jerome, John S. Butler, Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. No. 15-2066

 

 

 

© Linda F. Willing, 2017