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New Delaware laws protect rights of volunteer first responders

A new Delaware law provides employment protections that most people in California would assume were already in place. Delaware Governor Jack Markell has just signed two bills that will help protect employees from discrimination and disciplinary actions that result from their volunteer work as emergency responders.

The legislation impacts people who volunteer their time as firefighters and EMTs, among other emergency responsibilities. The need for such legislation was spotlighted by a case in which a Delaware man was fired by his employer after he burned his hands while on the job as a volunteer firefighter.

The first bill, HB 21, or the Volunteer Emergency Responders Job Protection Act, prevents an employer from disciplining or terminating an employee who missed work because of an injury sustained in their job as a volunteer emergency responder. It also prevents action against them if they miss up to seven work days during a state of emergency declared by the governor, and up to 14 days for an emergency declared by the president. People whose regular employment involves providing essential services, such as hospital and public utility employees and military personnel, are exempt from the law.

The second bill, HB 22, provides additional protections. It prohibits employers from discriminating in hiring and firing decisions on the basis of someone’s work as a volunteer responder.

The bill’s sponsor, who worked with firefighters’ organizations and officials in writing the legislation, noted that these first responders’ full-time jobs allow them to volunteer their time to serve their communities, which they do at risk to their safety. One Delaware fire chief noted that they rely on volunteers, and if they could lose their jobs because of their first responder responsibilities, the volunteer programs on which many areas depend would be at risk.

California volunteer emergency responders already have these protections. This is important considering the number of fires, earthquakes, floods, and other ravages of nature our state endures (not to mention man-made events) that require both professional and volunteer responders. It is still advisable to check with your employer to determine what their policy is for providing paid leave for such emergencies. Many companies encourage employees to use their time and talents to help the community, as long as it does not present an undue burden to the business. It is best, however, to be clear on the rules before an emergency occurs, and to know your legal rights.

Source:, “Governor signs law protecting emergency responders from employer discrimination” No author given, Sep. 11, 2013

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