Union criticizes new policy for pregnant D.C. firefighters

The Fire Department changed its policy for pregnant female firefighters Thursday, tripling the amount of time the women can go on light duty before they have to start using their sick leave. D.C. firefighters counter that the policy changes still don’t cover the time needed for women on the force who are pregnant.

"We don't discriminate. We try to take everybody's condition and circumstance into account,” said D.C. Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe.

Women with child will now be given 90 days of light duty or desk work before being placed on sick leave, tripling the previous 30-day policy that was implemented back in March.

Under the previous policy, pregnant female firefighters had to use their sick leave once the 30-day stint of light work was up. Some expectant mothers were placed on sick leave for four months, sometimes resulting in loss of pay.

"I think that it's a step in the right direction but I still think it's insufficient for pregnancy,” said Melissa Davis, a D.C. firefighter.

Eight weeks from her due date every little bit helps, she says. But since she still has to use her sick days as maternity leave once the baby arrives, she thinks the department could do more.

“Giving me three months covers more. It's definitely better but there would still be two months there that I would have to cover with my own leave,” Davis said.

The president of the firefighter's union agrees, stating "the change in policy will still force our pregnant female members to exhaust their sick leave and forgo a paycheck in the interest of their unborn children."

Fire Chief Ellerbe says the policy was implemented in good faith to help cut back on overtime expenses from having to backfill truck positions vacated by the pregnant women. Ellerbe says that is still an issue.

"I don't want to equate money and salary with the health and welfare of an employee but it is still a reasonable concern,” he said.

The policy is set to go in effect by Friday. There's a chance the pregnant women can extend their light-duty assignment beyond the 90 days, but that will be decided on a case-by-case basis they have to specifically request.