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Posted at 07:00 AM ET, 07/07/2011

First responders, mothers and unintended consequences

Two separate but strikingly similar conflicts have pitted D.C. officials against their pregnant and nursing employees. Both involve new policies, first responders and unintended consequences.
District Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier (Mark Gail - The Washington Post)

Let’s start with the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department. There, as Mike DeBonis described in a thorough blog post for The Post, officials decided that too many firefighters were assigned to limited duty. A solution was to change the policy so that those with a non-duty-related disability, including pregnancy, be on limited duty for exactly 30 days. After that? Pregnant firefighters had to take unpaid leave.

Not surprisingly, this ill-conceived policy received pushback. Last week, officials relented, according to Channel 9 News and extended the policy to 90 days.

Not enough, said the firefighters’ union and pregnant firefighters. Some pointed out that the D.C. police department treats pregnant women more fairly.

Maybe that had something to do with the the fact that the police chief is a woman.

Too bad that a controversial policy has Police Chief Cathy Lanier accused of driving nursing mothers from their jobs. Like the Fire Department, the police department wanted to address an overabundance of desk jobs. A policy issued last fall said nursing moms had to get back on the street.

The union complained. It took a few months of back-and-forth, but the upshot was that the administration stood by its decision. Now in place, one officer told Fox News last week that she has been forced to take unpaid leave. She said wearing the required tight-fitting bullet-proof-vest for her street assignment was too painful and interfered with her milk production.

The union is still fighting the policy and some of the supporters of the nursing officers are staging a nurse-in protest this weekend.

There are legitimate concerns on all sides. Limited budgets have forced cuts in the number of first responders. Those who are working must take on more physically demanding and often-dangerous duties. Pregnant and nursing mothers want to do their jobs, but also have to respect their bodies and protect and care for their babies.

If the official response had been less shortsighted and more flexible — probably not every nursing mother would object to leaving desk duty — the two conflicts would look a lot less sexist.

What do you think? Are these policies justified?

By  |  07:00 AM ET, 07/07/2011

 
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