Bills to Protect Emergency Responders’ Jobs Pass House

Rep. Heffernan’s bills protect firefighters, emergency volunteers from disciplinary action and discrimination in hiring so they may continue to keep citizens safe

DOVER – The House passed companion bills sponsored by Rep. Debra Heffernan Tuesday that would protect volunteer emergency responders from employer discrimination or discipline stemming from their volunteer responsibilities.

Rep. Heffernan worked with the Delaware Volunteer Firefighter’s Association and her local fire company, Brandywine Hundred Fire Co., in crafting both pieces of legislation.

Christiana Fire Co. Chief Richard J. Perillo said the genesis of the legislation is a company firefighter who was fired by a private employer after the firefighter sustained burns to his hands while fighting a house fire last year. The firefighter, Mr. Perillo said, was unable to return to work for a few days while being treated for his burns and the employer terminated him.

“We’re extremely fortunate to have friends and neighbors who volunteer as emergency responders throughout our state. They put their personal lives on hold and often put themselves at risk to protect us,” said Rep. Heffernan, D-Brandywine Hundred South. “Many of these volunteers have full-time jobs in addition to being firefighters or EMTs and those jobs enable them to volunteer on the side.”

House Bill 21, known as the Volunteer Emergency Responders Job Protection Act, would prevent an employer from firing or taking disciplinary action against an employee who misses work due to injury sustained when acting as a volunteer emergency responder. An employer could require a worker who misses work due to that injury to provide proof of the emergency response or injury.

HB 21 also would prohibit an employer from terminating or taking any other disciplinary action against an employee who is a volunteer emergency responder if they are called to serve during a governor-declared state of emergency or president-declared national emergency and are absent from work. An amendment exempts essential state employees, members of the armed forces, members of the National Guard, hospital personnel and public utility workers.

A second measure, House Bill 22, would prohibit employers from refusing to hire, firing or discriminating against volunteer firefighters and ambulance crews with respect to their pay, terms or conditions of employment because of their volunteer service.

“If volunteers are injured while on a call, they should be protected from disciplinary action,” Rep. Heffernan said. “And our first responders should not be looked over for jobs because of their volunteer commitments. These bills will protect our emergency responders from employer discrimination while they are keeping us safe.”

HB 21 and 22 now head to the Senate for consideration.