OIG Finds That the Chicago Fire Department’s Policies and Practices Related to Discrimination and Sexual Harassment Are Insufficient to Meet the Environmental Challenges Posed by its Workplace

The Office of Inspector General (OIG) conducted an audit to determine whether the Chicago Fire Department’s (CFD) discrimination and sexual harassment prevention, reporting, and training policies and practices comply with relevant laws and regulations. The audit also sought to assess employees’ views on the Department’s workplace environment and culture related to discrimination and sexual harassment. OIG concluded that­­­­ while CFD’s policies comply with baseline federal, state, and local laws, the policies themselves–as well as the complaint process and training used to enforce and promote them–are insufficient to meet the environmental challenges posed by a command control emergency service operation like CFD. Additionally, we determined that CFD’s process for scheduling interviews for members who made formal complaints about discrimination or harassment placed them at risk of retaliation and potentially discouraged them from reporting misconduct.

To help CFD address these issues OIG recommended that the Department:

  • implement training for its members, tailored specifically to CFD’s unique workplace environment and delivered by instructors with fire service experience;
  • provide written guidance and training to CFD’s Internal Affairs Division staff on how to handle complaints of discrimination or sexual harassment in a trauma-informed manner and refer the complaints to the Equal Employment Opportunity Division for investigation;
  • appoint a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Officer to work on issues of diversity, discrimination, and sexual harassment; and
  • develop a strategy to include more safeguards to protect reporting members and victims from potential retaliation.

In response, CFD stated that the Department will: create written guidelines for referring complaints and train its investigators on trauma-informed interviewing techniques; provide its members with supplemental training that is tailored to the workplace; and work with the Office of Budget and Management and the Department of Human Resources to add a DEI Officer position to the 2022 budget. Finally, CFD expressed its dedication to fostering a culture that does not tolerate retaliation but stated that it will not develop a strategic approach to address issues highlighted in OIG’s audit until after the appointment of a new commissioner.

“CFD’s historical struggles with allegations of on-the-job discrimination and sexual harassment, alongside OIG’s audit findings, demonstrate that more robust policies and enforcement are needed to protect CFD members,” said Inspector General Joe Ferguson. “Firefighters and paramedics live together while on duty, spend 24-hour shifts with each other, and work in a high-risk, high-stress environment where their lives and the lives of others depend on members’ cooperation and mutual trust. These conditions require a thoughtful and tailored approach that goes beyond adoption of the blanket policy that covers all City employees. While CFD has stated that it will wait until a new commissioner is appointed before developing a strategic approach to the issues raised in this audit, we recommend that the Department address these challenges sooner rather than later, and make a firm commitment to improving workplace conditions and culture for all of its dedicated members.”

The full report can be found online at OIG’s website: bit.ly/CFDAudit.

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The mission of the independent and non-partisan City of Chicago Office of Inspector General (OIG) is to promote economy, effectiveness, efficiency, and integrity by identifying corruption, waste, and mismanagement in City government. OIG is a watchdog for the taxpayers of the City and has jurisdiction to conduct investigations and audits into most aspects of City government. If you see corruption, fraud, or waste of any kind, we need to hear from you. For more information, visit our website at: www.igchicago.org.