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Pregnant D.C. firefighters face strict new policy

Pregnant female firefighters for the District of Columbia currently face a difficult new cost-cutting policy which will is making their lives more difficult. The new policy, which took effect in March, restricts injured or ill firefighters and paramedics to no more than 30 days of light-duty assignments, after which time they must go on unpaid leave until they begin working again.

Some feel the new policy forces pregnant workers to choose between their life outside the fire department and their career. One D.C. Council member is even looking into whether the new policy constitutes discrimination.

In past years, pregnant firefighters would be placed on desk duty or other less physically demanding assignments until the worker came to term or could no longer work.

Sources said D.C. Fire and EMS Chief Kenneth Ellerbee was behind the move. According to the D.C. Council Public Safety Committee, the purpose of the new policy was to address "excessive overtime" and "reduce costs associated with backfilling positions of temporarily disabled employees.

The firefighters union Local 36 opposes the policy and points out that it is the toughest policy of any D.C. department. Others have responded negatively to the policy as well.

According to at-large D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson, the new policy is wrong, and the department ought to reverse it. Sources said Mendelson has asked D.C. Attorney General Irvin Nathan to examine the new policy for possible discrimination. He also apparently plans to ask the D.C. Council to intervene if the department doesn't reverse the policy before the Council's July 12 meeting.

Source: NBC Washington, "Pregnant D.C. Firefighters Put Out by New Unpaid Leave Policy" Tom Sherwood, 20 June 2011.

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