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D.C. fire department mulls pregnancy-inspired policy change

Limited-duty assignments could be changed from 30 days to 90 days

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The D.C. fire department is considering increasing the number of days an employee can work a light-duty assignment after complaints from pregnant firefighters that the 30 days now offered keeps them in physically demanding positions too far into their pregnancies.

D.C. Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe said Wednesday he is mulling a change in policy that would offer 90 days rather than 30 days of limited-duty assignments to all sick, injured or pregnant firefighters and paramedics.

Pregnant firefighters publicly protested the current policy earlier this month, saying it makes female employees unfairly chose between family life and a career in the department.

Under the current policy, employees are allowed 30 days on a limited-duty assignment, or desk work, and then are required to either use sick days or accrued leave for additional time away from their regular job assignment. Some women affected by the policy said doctors ordered them to take light-duty assignments during their fourth or fifth months of pregnancy.

D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson, chairman of the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary, told the department that it had until July 12 to revise the policy or he would introduce legislation to force a change.

"Fire and EMS would be on solid ground to have the same policy that MPD has," Mr. Mendelson said Wednesday at a committee hearing. "I think you can have a distinction between an employee who is pregnant and who is not."

The Metropolitan Police Department's pregnancy policy allows women to stay on limited-duty assignments throughout their pregnancies, said Mr. Mendelson, at-large Democrat.

"I want what MPD has," said fire union President Edward Smith. "I'm just looking for what's fair and reasonable."

In an interview, Chief Ellerbe said he worried he would open the department up for discrimination lawsuits by creating separate distinctions for employees on limited-duty assignments. Instead, he said the department was more closely exploring the option of offering the 90-day limited-duty assignments. Even that change would not be without ramifications, he said.

"My concern is that overtime would increase," he said of a change from the current policy of 30 days to a policy of 90 days.

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