You’re Pregnant. Now What?

When a female officer gets pregnant, she must be aware of an array of possible risk factors, including chemical hazards, firearms and other issues.

When a female officer gets pregnant, she must be aware of an array of possible risk factors, including chemical hazards, firearms and other issues.

Several police departments have a policy in place to accommodate pregnant officers who often must present proof to the employer in the form of a letter from the officer’s physician. Usually the officer may temporarily transfer to a less dangerous position during the pregnancy and for several months after the birth while nursing. This is if the transfer can be reasonably accommodated.

Once an officer shows her pregnancy physically, most officers agree she should take a light-duty job. The pregnancy adds stress to other patrol officers because they worry about her health and the baby’s health. And she must deal with the perception that she looks more vulnerable. Many officers agree that having a visibly pregnant officer on patrol most likely would give the public the idea that the police were not willing or able to engage in dangerous life-threatening or lifesaving situations.      

Unless it’s clear that the pregnancy is affecting the officer’s ability to perform her regular duties, endangering herself, other employees or members of the public, most police departments can’t force the pregnant officer to take a temporary reassignment. The best they can do is ask for documentation from the pregnant police officer’s physician. There are undoubtedly some departments who don’t have a policy for this, and will force the officer to take a temporary assignment out of pressure and/or the culture within the department. Many women don’t complain about discrimination because they don’t want to be labeled, and so the discrimination goes unreported even in departments that have policy to prevent it.

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In 2006, six female officers with the Suffolk County (N.Y.) Police Department won a case against their department for discrimination during their pregnancies. They weren’t allowed to take requested light-duty positions, as male officers could do following an injury. They received between $5,000 and $23,000 each.

In 2008, six female police officers in Detroit filed a pregnancy discrimination case against the Detroit PD, after they were forced to take unpaid leave during their pregnancies. The case was settled in the late summer of 2010 for $200,000.

These aren’t big settlements in comparison to other gender-related lawsuits, and especially considering there has been a federal law since 1964 prohibiting discrimination relating to pregnancy. That law, which can be found under the Federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act, states that “discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions is defined as a type of sex discrimination and is prohibited.” (Tysinger v. Police Department of the City of Zanesville).

Aside from discrimination and lawsuits, there are some legitimate health issues surrounding pregnancy for an officer, including health-related issues involving stress, firearms, and toxic chemical exposure. Firearms issues involve noise, lead and toxic-substance exposure from weapon cleaning.

Stress is a concern during any pregnancy but even more so for female officers who often feel they need to hide their pregnancies as long as possible to avoid being put behind a desk or risk losing their job. While stress can lead to many conditions in the mother, it also affects the fetus. The chemicals released by the mother during stress can affect the fetus and the overall health of the pregnancy, leading to high blood pressure, fatigue, or pre-eclampsia.

Some symptoms of stress include insomnia, headaches, chest pain, upset stomach, depression, over eating, anxiety, under/over reacting, and drug or alcohol use to “unwind.” Other symptoms that can be brought on or exacerbated by stress in pregnant women are the problems of loss of agility and balance issues.

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