New Jersey Decisions Reinforce Sexual Harassment Rules

We all know that the firehouse is a unique workplace. Firefighters take meals together. There are often idle times while on the job when they can enjoy recreational activities together. And, where else are employees expected to sleep on the job? The...


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Sexual harassment is an area of the law in which prevention is especially important. Both leadership and the rank and file, career and volunteer, need to make this a priority (volunteers can file harassment claims too). Fire departments need to know the law in their states regarding what constitutes a "hostile environment" and what preventative actions the courts expect. And this needs to be effectively communicated throughout the organization.

I know that this is the type of training that many in the fire service dislike. And, indeed, it often is done poorly, amounting to little more than politically correct platitudes, vague threats and an explanation of how to file a complaint. But an effective anti-sexual harassment program must address the legal realities and the realities of life in the fire service.

As Jachera has noted, the New Jersey decisions have raised the stakes in that state. The decisions go beyond the requirements established by the U.S. Supreme Court. Other states may or may not follow the New Jersey standards, but these decisions should alert departments nationwide of the need to make sure that they have effective sexual harassment policies, both in reality and perception. Further, individual firefighters must make sure their actions and attitudes are not creating a hostile environment for their brothers and sisters in the fire service.


Steve Blackistone, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is an attorney and a member of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad in Montgomery County, MD.