Practical Support for the Changing World at Work 
Linda F. Willing
P.O. Box 148
Grand Lake, CO
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Consider This... December 2017 Issue Number 209

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. 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

What and How

A recent study by researchers at Drexel University concludes that women firefighters may have different attitudes toward safety that result in fewer workplace accidents and injuries. Two factors highlighted by the report are different techniques that may be used by women for physical tasks, and the fact that women are more likely to ask for help with a task vs. their male counterparts.

The study found that women firefighters are more likely to try more diverse ergonomic techniques when performing a task. One interview subject stated, "We use better technique and lot of guys get hurt because they just try to muscle it or, God forbid, they ask a woman to help with a ladder."

The use of diverse techniques in performing a task is not something that many fire departments embrace. Teaching a skill, such as raising a ladder, is often all about teaching one specific way to do it. Try to do it differently, and you're doing it wrong, even if the end result (a ladder safely in place) is the same.

With some tasks, particularly medical procedures, specific protocols are important. For others, it is more about the end result (stretching the hose line, breaching the door) rather than exactly how the job is done. And in many cases, having access to a variety of techniques increases options for safe practice for everyone.

This study highlights how the inclusion of women in fire departments might expand options for safe practice, but the larger point is that including diversity of all types will have the same effect as long as that diversity is respected and not made to seem like a deficit against what has always been done.

Source: Drexel Now, October 3, 2017


News Brief

Criminal charges have been filed against a former Austin, Texas fire lieutenant who allegedly placed a hidden camera in the women's locker room at his fire station. The officer retired following the incident, but has now been charged criminally with invasive visual recording, a felony punishable by up to two years in jail and $10,000 in fines.

Source: Austin American-Statesman, November 17, 2017


Sexual Harassment Update

Sexual Harassment: The Reality

With all the recent news and talk about sexual harassment, there is still much confusion about the reality of how the law applies.

In recent weeks, a number of high profile entertainment, political, and media figures have been accused of harassing behavior, and some of them have either been fired or have voluntarily left their positions. These highly publicized outcomes might cause someone to believe that sexual harassment claims always lead to negative outcomes for the accused perpetrator, and that people are likely to report harassment when it occurs.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, although up to 50% of working women say that they have experienced harassment, only 5-15% of women ever report it. Of legal cases actually filed, only 3-6% ever make it to court. Of the rest, half are settled out of court, and around 40% are dismissed pre-trial. The numbers are even lower for men who experience harassment.

For behavior to meet the legal standard of being harassment, it must be "severe or pervasive" and interpretation of this definition varies widely depending on the court and the judge. For example, in one case a construction worker had a supervisor who talked about raping the plaintiff and initiated unwanted physical contact more than two dozen times over a period of ten days. The judge dismissed the case, saying that ten days was too brief a period of time to qualify as "pervasive" behavior. On the other hand, when behavior occurs over an extended period of time, a court may dismiss the case on the basis of the behavior being too sporadic to be pervasive.

In addition, case law can create precedent that raises the bar for harassment claims. For example, a 2007 Supreme Court case established the standard that plaintiffs must prove that harassment was intentional for it to be legally actionable.

Employers can and often do have higher standards for conduct than the minimum required by law. For this reason, an employee could be disciplined even if the claim of harassment is legally dismissed. However, employers can also put in place complicated complaint systems that discourage anyone from initiating a report of harassment.

The reality of harassment law for the average worker is quite different from what the headline news would have us believe.

Source:, November 28, 2017



© Linda F. Willing, 2017