The Town of Benson has adopted policies to protect pregnant police officers from job discrimination and to protect employees who blow the whistle on wrongdoing.
Benson needed a whistle-blower policy in order to receive a federal grant to purchase new police radios, said Town Manager Matt Zapp. Commissioners unanimously approved one at their meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 9.
Benson personnel policies already require employees “to observe high standards in their business practices and personal ethics” and to report suspected violations of town policies and local, state and federal laws. The whistle-blower policy protects employees who report suspected violations from retribution.
Under the new policy, no one who reports a suspected violation will suffer harassment, retaliation or adverse consequences. Any employee who does retaliate against someone who has reported a suspected violation will be subject to discipline, including firing.
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The policy is intended to “encourage and enable employees and others to raise serious concerns within the Town of Benson organization” before seeking resolution outside the town’s hierarchy.
The policy requires department heads and supervisors to maintain an open-door policy that invites employees to share questions, concerns, suggestions and complaints.
If an employee is uncomfortable speaking with his or her supervisor, or isn’t satisfied with the supervisor’s response, he or she should speak with the town’s attorney or another management-level employee, the policy states.
The policy requires supervisors and managers to report suspected violations to the town manager, who is responsible for ensuring all reports are investigated. On accounting or auditing matters, the manager has to immediately notify the board of commissioners.
Under the policy, whistle blowers can remain anonymous, and reports will be kept confidential “to the extent possible” based on the investigation.
Commissioners discussed the policy but did not vote on it at a previous meeting. The town’s attorney, R. Isaac Parker, brought the policy back before commissioners for approval Tuesday evening.
Of Benson’s 14 police officers, three are female. In order to be proactive, Zapp said, staff drafted and commissioners approved policies and procedures for accommodating pregnant officers.
The policy begins by saying the town will not assume a police officer is unable to continue her duties because she is pregnant. And the town will never require a police officer to disclose a pregnancy.
The policy does allow the police department to modify assignments and provide temporary alternative duties for officers when they are unable to perform their normal duties. While pregnant, an officer can request a temporary change in her duties and will be granted the change as available.
Also, the police department can consider and make changes to a pregnant employee’s uniform and equipment as the need arises.
Pregnant officers can request a temporary exemption from carrying a firearm, or the department may arrange for alternatives such as nontoxic, lead-free ammunition.
Information regarding an employee’s requests under the policy are to be kept confidential.
Since both the town’s attorney and Police Chief Kenneth O. Edwards backed the policy, commissioners unanimously approved it.
Abbie Bennett: 910-849-2827; @AbbieRBennett