Ohio Firefighters On Leave Following Off Duty Haircutting Incident

Two Ohio firefighters have been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation into a viral video involving the punishment of a girl by cutting her hair. The firefighters, who are married, reportedly work for the Middleton Township Fire Department.

Last week, the girl’s mother posted on Facebook that she put highlights in her daughter’s hair as a birthday present, but her ex-husband and his wife cut the girls hair as punishment.

Here is a copy of the post:

The post reportedly received over 17,000 shares in just 48 hours. Besides the fire department, police and Wood County Job and Family Services are investigating.

More on the story.

One of the most common questions I get asked relates to how far a fire department can go in terms of disciplining employees for off-duty behavior. There really are no absolute bright lines. Much will depend upon the fire department’s policies, procedures, rules and regulations. Some departments have policies that extend into off-duty behavior, and have a consistent track record of enforcing them. Other departments may not have such policies, or may not have been consistent in terms of how they have been applied.

The ability of a fire department to discipline an employee for off-duty behavior has to be distinguished from an employee’s obligation to answer questions as part of a disciplinary investigation. Under the Garrity Rule, and employee cannot be compelled to answer questions that could implicate the employee in criminal conduct unless the questions are “specifically, directly, and narrowly relating to the performance of his official duties”.

In a case like this it is impossible to determine – based on what is publicly known – whether any laws have been violated. If criminal charges were even a remote possibility, a firefighter in such a situation would not be under an obligation to answer any questions about what occurred.

 

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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