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Home  >  Topics  >  Women Officers

February 15, 2011
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Betsy Brantner Smith Survival Insights
with Betsy Brantner Smith

What do you do with a pregnant cop?

Advice for one of the most poorly handled, contentious, and misunderstood issues in law enforcement today

As a police trainer, I meet thousands of amazing women each year. Class discussions are always lively, but nothing fires up participants more than when we talk about pregnancy.

So what do you do with a pregnant cop?

It’s one of the most poorly handled, contentious, and misunderstood issues in law enforcement today, but here’s a bit of no-nonsense advice that will hopefully enlighten, entertain, and maybe even surprise you.

We’re all equal, right?
“Fair and equal” treatment can become a problem when it comes to pregnancy at the police department because guys don’t get pregnant. The best way to deal with this disconnect is to have a logical, sound policy for dealing with pregnant cops.

A “pregnancy policy” is not a “maternity policy.” A pregnancy policy outlines what to do with the pregnant officer while she is still able to work in some capacity. A “maternity policy” deals with the inevitable extended leave that follows the pregnancy. (Ideally, departments should also offer “paternity leave,” but that’s another article for another day).

Keep in mind that “maternity leave” is a medical issue, whereas “paternity leave” is primarily a family issue. Both may be covered by the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), but unless your agency has enhanced these benefits, FMLA is unpaid leave, of which most of us can’t afford to take full advantage.

The length of maternity leave is generally up to the agency and the woman’s physician, but women usually need a minimum of 6-8 weeks to recover from childbirth. Paid sick leave can be used only if policy allows.

And guys, before you cry foul about all that paid time off, keep in mind that your female co-worker just spent nine months growing a live human being inside of her body, pushing it out of a sensitive spot in a very violent manner (or having it cut out of her with a scalpel) and then recovering from all of that on virtually no sleep whatsoever. Give her a break.

Know your rights and responsibilities
Both police administrators and pregnant officers are often uninformed or confused about the employee's rights and the agency’s responsibilities when it comes to a pregnant cop. I know scores of female cops who have been denied pay, sent home, suspended, and even fired (yes, fired) just because they were pregnant.

The federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) requires that employers treat “women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related conditions” the same “as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work.” That’s legalese for: The agency has to treat pregnancy like any other injury or illness.

Some women bristle at that description of the blessed event but understand there has to be a legal baseline for administrators to operate from. Its important to note that the PDA does not prohibit policies that favor pregnant women, nor does it require employers to provide more favorable treatment to pregnant employees. The law simply requires that departments treat pregnant women as well or as poorly as a “disabled” employee.

So if the agency doesn’t allow “light duty” for injured or disabled personnel, they don’t have to allow it for pregnant women. Because of this, women often end up sitting at home collecting partial disability pay or no pay at all. This is a huge waste of manpower and talent, and it’s a hardship for the officer and her family.

Plan ahead and be consistent
Every police department needs to have policy in place before an officer gets pregnant. The officer should know what that policy is before they disclose their pregnancy. This seems simple, but I can’t begin to tell you the number of police departments that just refuse to deal with this issue.

Women, if your department doesn’t have a policy, write one. If the administration doesn’t like it or won’t deal with it, remember Dave Smith’s theory of “The Power of Positive Annoyance.”

Be professional, be tenacious, explain to them (in writing) why this policy is necessary and how it will benefit the agency as well as the other employees. Most of all, stay positive! Do your research, talk to other agencies and keep your policy simple, logical and short. If, after your best efforts, the chief still won’t acknowledge the issue, take it to the next level, always following proper protocol. You may end up dealing with Human Resources, the union, or whomever, but be persistent and professional, not emotional and contentious.

And if you’re an administrator, re-read the beginning of the preceding paragraph and help your officers avoid having to go through this. Get a policy, ask the women in the agency to write it, and then commend them for helping out. You’ll save yourselves a lot of trouble in the future.

Bosses: Have compassion, be realistic and don’t freak out
One of the reasons pregnancy becomes a big deal at work is because it’s a very personal, life-changing event, it’s a bit mysterious, and its often misunderstood.

Years ago I got a call from a neighboring chief who wanted some advice about one of his officers. His department was a small one, and they’d hired their first (and only) female police officer four years earlier. He was frustrated because shortly after completing field training, she became pregnant. She was put on light duty, had the baby in due time, and then came back to work after an 8-week summer maternity leave.

She did this three more times in quick succession for a total of four babies in four years. Since her maternity leave always came during the summer months, this affected the rest of the department’s summer vacation schedule and left them short-handed and understandably a bit frustrated.

The chief took it one step further and concluded that she was getting pregnant solely to get the summers off, and he wanted to know if he could somehow discipline her for her actions. I remember thinking, "Does this guy really think that having a baby in one arm, a toddler on your hip and two more under foot makes for a relaxing summer?!" I told him to talk to his city attorney, but that my recommendation was to let it go, he didn’t have a case.

I later met the officer in question, and she admitted that she lost out on valuable street experience and it took her awhile to play “catch up” with her skills and regain credibility with her peers, but she and her husband wanted four kids and they wanted ‘em fast, so she did what she had to do. She’s now a good cop, a very successful sergeant and a really busy soccer mom.

Women: Stay professional, be realistic, and don’t freak out
Finding out you’re pregnant is one of those “WOW” moments in a woman’s life. Rejoice in this amazing journey, but don’t expect the police department to go there with you. Expect to be treated like a queen at home, but plan on being treated like cop at work.

Work full duty as long as it’s safe (that’s up to you and your doctor) and then if your department doesn’t offer light duty, negotiate. Offer to help out anywhere there’s (safe) work to be done, even if it’s not your dream job; take this opportunity to get yourself noticed as a great employee.

It’s not the department’s job to find you a wonderfully fulfilling assignment; it’s their job to run a public safety organization. So if you find yourself filing parking tickets or processing dog tag applications, do it really, really well and don’t complain.

I talk to so many women who are disappointed (or downright angry) that they don’t get to spend their pregnancy in the assignment of their choice. Understand what is in your control and what is not. The agency gets to put you where they need you; that’s the nature of working in a paramilitary organization. And if there’s no light duty and you have to go out on disability, do so with grace, but do your research and see if you have any legal recourse.

Patience is a virtue, and pregnancy doesn’t last forever (it just seems that way)
One afternoon shift when I was 8 months pregnant and the acting watch commander (on light duty), my chief stopped into my office to chat.

He’s a friendly guy and a family man, so the talk inevitably turned to the big event. He proceeded to tell me about the birth of his oldest, a son, born when my chief was a young patrolman. He seemed to take great pride in that fact that he had returned to work within hours of his son’s debut into the world; after all, there wasn’t much for dads to do back then but say “good job honey” and pass out cigars.

Intellectually, I knew that times had changed in the 20-plus years that had passed, and my boss was just trying to relate to me as a parent, but it took everything I had not to let my raging hormones take over and ask him if he would have been so eager to return to work if he had pushed an 8-pound human being through one of the tiniest openings in his body and then had that same opening stitched closed while the new baby latched on to yet another extremely sensitive and tiny opening on his aching, exhausted body.

After a few deep breaths, I managed to take control of my inner bitch and just enjoy the friendly conversation. Ladies, try not to be overly sensitive; administrators and co-workers, try to think before you speak. In other words, let’s all try to get along. It’s better for the organization, and hey, it’s better for the baby!

Pregnancy is a wonderful time for a family, but often a confusing time for an employer, especially in a high-risk profession like law enforcement.

Only female cops get pregnant, so we can’t treat men and women “equally” on this issue, but we can work together to benefit both the officer and the agency. Do your research, have solid policy in place, be professional, show compassion, and rejoice in the new addition to your law enforcement family!


About the author

Sergeant Betsy Smith has more than 30 years of law enforcement experience, retiring as a patrol supervisor in a large Chicago suburb. A graduate of the Northwestern University Center for Public Safety's School of Staff and Command and a Street Survival seminar instructor for more than 9 years, Betsy is now a speaker, author and a primary PoliceOne Academy consultant. Visit Betsy's website at www.femaleforces.com.

Contact Betsy Smith and Follow Betsy on Twitter





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