Female firefighters in Washington, D.C. are fighting to change a D.C. Fire and EMS policy that, they say, limits their options during pregnancy. Limited-duty job days were reduced last year, which has caused pregnant firefighters to use their sick leave, go on unpaid leave or simply work up until delivery.

The D.C. Fire Fighters Association Local 36 issued a press release and held a press June 20 to lobby the D.C. Council to change the policy. So far, Councilmembers Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) and Mary Cheh (D-Ward 5) have jumped on board to ask D.C. Fire and EMS to amend their policy for pregnant workers.

Ed Smith, president of the D.C. firefighter’s union, said pregnant mothers who chose to work until delivery would inadvertently expose their unborn child to dangers in the workplace.

“Our female firefighters should not be placed into a situation where they either have to face possible monetary shortfalls or to expose their unborn child to the occupational hazards and diseases that are common to our profession,” he stated in a press release.

Acting Fire Chief Kenneth Jackson said there was nothing wrong with the department’s policy. “Our pregnancy policy is in line with federal law and District guidelines,” he said in a statement.

The practice is “wrong and needs to be reversed,” said Mendelson, who said he would negotiate with the D.C. Fire and EMS first to correct the practice before he introduces legislation.

“I want them to fix this administratively but if the fire department does not reverse the policy, I will take the matter before my colleagues on July 12,” he stated in an e-mail.
Mendelson said he asked D.C. Attorney General Irvin Nathan to review the policy for discrimination implications. “It is common sense that you don’t force pregnant women to take leave.”

According to an existing law, The Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which is an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as long as pregnant workers are able to do their job, they cannot be forced to take leave.

Those who felt that have been discriminated against are urged to contact their local Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.


Erica Butler

AFRO Staff Writer