Bonehead Decision of the Year: Close the Nominations, Please!

By:  Robert Avsec

I opened my e-mail yesterday to view the latest newsletter and this is one of the leads:

Pregnant FirefighterPregnant firefighter placed on unpaid leave by Conn. department

City officials are investigating saying the department may be violating state and federal laws by placing her on unrequested, unpaid leave because she’s pregnant.

The next thing I did was check my calendar because surely I’d been transported back in time…to say, 1950?  Surely this sort of thing is not happening in 2013, is it?

Sadly, it is, and the headline is just the half of it.  When you read the entire article you’ll see that someone could not have written a more “textbook” scenario for the mismanagement of the lead issue, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), sexual harassment (hostile work environment variety), and the basic employee/management paradigm.

So then I scroll down the page and start reading the reader comments and I came across this one FMLA Law Slide(I’ve changed this lady’s name to protect her anonymity):

Higby Indicator:  I’m currently 3.5 months pregnant and with my first pregnancy 5 years ago I worked unrestricted to 35 weeks. We now have a new Chief and I’m nervous how I will be treated in a few months. My department has no light-duty so I won’t have that option.

Here is the response that I posted for Higby and the rest of the folks who took time to comment on the article:

FMLA Explain Slide

Note the final bullet point on the slide!

Higby, congratulations on your current pregnancy and best wishes for a full-term delivery of a happy and healthy baby!  Now, if you haven’t done so already, make sure you read Linda Willing’s Related Article in the box on this page, How to Deal with the Pregnant Firefighter.

It is “chock full” of informative and factual information that I highly recommend that you print out and use in a discussion with you direct supervisor and his or her boss.  You want to proactively get this information “flowing” up the chain-of-command now, before anyone in your chain-of-command has a chance to show their ignorance of the law as demonstrated by the department and city in this article.

Find out what you need to do in your location to comply with your requirements under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).  Here are a couple of excellent resources:

  • Health Benefits, Retirement Standards, and Workers’ Compensation: Family and Medical Leave,
  • FMLASource® Q & A,
Woman Firefighter

Being a firefighter doesn’t mean you have to give up your rights as a woman. Get the facts about pregnancy and the workplace and FMLA from your Human Resources department or check out the links below.

This is particularly important because once you’ve filed your FMLA forms with your city/county FMLA Request Formgovernment, any leave that you take that is or may be related to your pregnancy must be “charged” against the 12-weeks of unpaid leave

provided for by FMLA.  That doesn’t mean you don’t get paid–if you use your sick leave you should still be paid for that time–it just means that if you wind up using one week of FMLA leave during your pregnancy you’ll only have 11 weeks of the unpaid FMLA remaining.

To continue, if you have five weeks of paid leave on the books when you quit working altogether for the delivery of your baby, you would have to use those five weeks of leave time (vacation, personal time, sick leave) for which you’d be paid.  Those five weeks will also be “charged” to your FMLA leave balance leaving you with 6 weeks of remaining FMLA leave all of which would be without pay.

Don’t delay on getting this process started!  Remember this from the article above?

“The symptoms forced her to use some of her sick leave in May, June, July and August. While Scates said this all should be attributed to one occurrence, the city is counting it as four separate incidents. They are then combining it with three other occurrences of sick time, dating back to October 2012. As a result, Scates said, they have disciplined her for overuse of sick time, taken away three overtime shifts and placed a notice of abuse in her file.”

If Firefighter Scates had filed her FMLA paperwork (And we don’t know for sure that she didn’t) that sick leave time in May, June, July and August would all have been charged to FMLA.  The charge of sick leave abuse never would have come up; well maybe it would have because the leadership in this situation obviously does not know the law, but FF Scates would have had the job protection of FMLA on her side.

Mary Bowman ECC ChesterfieldSorry to get so wordy here, but this is a subject I’m very familiar with–in a good way.  I had the honor of managing the Emergency Communications Center in Chesterfield County, VA for 2+ years back in the late 1990’s.  Our staff was 98% women and during my tenure we always had at least one employee off on FMLA and away from work or who was on FMLA while they continued to work.  Our employees–as per the law–would come tell us as soon as they learned they were pregnant and we’d give them the forms to be completed by them and their physician and life was good.

So, once again, congrats on your impending childbirth!


I highly recommend that you also read Linda Willing’s piece because Linda does a great job of giving you concise information regarding all the laws, regulations, and court decisions that are applicable to employee pregnancy and work issues.  If you are reading this and you’re not the fire chief in your organization and you’re not sure how your department would handle this, take my advice to Higby Indicator and start using your influence to get the information to the bosses before it’s too late.

Help me and Linda to put the time machine forward mode and get us back to 2013.  Wadda you say?

See Also:

Health Benefits, Retirement Standards, and Workers’ Compensation: Family and Medical Leave

FMLASource® Q & A

About Robert Avsec, Executive Fire Officer

Battalion Chief (Ret.) Robert Avsec served with the men and women of the Chesterfield County (VA) Fire and EMS Department for 26 years. He’s now using his acquired knowledge, skills, and experiences as a freelance writer for and as the “blogger in chief” for this blog. Chief Avsec makes his home in Cross Lanes, WV. Contact him via e-mail,