Fire Law: Pregnancy Discrimination In the Fire Service

I t was a discussion that took place many years ago, in a fire station, over dinner. “Hey, Chief, my wife is pregnant. Can I go on light duty?” the firefighter asked me in a baiting sort of way, with more than a hint of sarcasm in his voice...


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The question that commonly arises in these cases is whether a department that has no light-duty program must create one to accommodate pregnant firefighters. The answer is no. As a general rule, a pregnant employee cannot force an employer to create a light-duty position. Thus, if a fire department has no light-duty positions, a pregnant firefighter would be out of luck. However, if a department provides light-duty assignments to employees for medical and other reasons, it cannot refuse to accommodate a pregnant employee who seeks a light-duty position.

Summary

The law governing pregnant firefighters is often misunderstood and misapplied, but in truth is very straightforward: a fire department cannot discriminate against an employee on account of her pregnancy. A pregnant employee cannot be denied a light-duty assignment if the department would grant it for other medical conditions, nor can a pregnant employee be ordered to leave active duty when she and her doctor conclude she can safely continue to work.

The solution is a policy that respects the employee’s rights and while ensuring that the employee and her doctor receive educational information on the risks that firefighting poses to the mother and her developing child. n