Massachusetts Ends Mandatory Physicals For Firefighters Returning From Layoff

FALL RIVER, MA – A new policy to drug test and require a physical exam for returning firefighters laid-off due to budget cuts is unlawful, according to a recently released opinion by the state Civil Service Commission

“Not only is it against the law, but it’s adding insult to injury,” said firefighters’ Union President Jason Burns.

The Civil Service Commission sought the opinion from the Executive Office for Administration and Finance’s Human Resources Division which referenced the statute regarding reinstating civil service employees which states a required physical or psychological exam may only be required if an employee is seeking a disability retirement.

The law allows a civil servant to return to a municipality after lay-offs for up to 10 years.

The firefighter’s union filed two complaints with both the Department of Labor Relations and the Civil Service Commission. Hearings on the issue are scheduled in the spring, Burns said.

The practice of requiring returning firefighters to drug test and take a physical began in July when the fiscal 2016 budget passed and funded the reinstatement of six firefighters to increase staffing from 169 to 175, said Burns. Since then at least nine returning firefighters were subjected to a drug test and physical and he noted that they were not required to take a physical agility test.

Burns said the city’s policy “affects every civil service job in the state.”

Saying he would likely abide by the opinion released by the Civil Service Commission, Fire Chief Robert Viveiros said he felt the ruling was “absurd” and that the law should change.

“I think it was the right thing to do, and it’s not just my opinion, it’s the opinion of the administration and attorney,” said Viveiros. “Here’s my question, five years from now or nine years from now, a firefighter is reinstated. We should not be able to see if they’re physically fit?”

Viveiros said when a firefighter leaves the city’s employment and is hired by another community, they are subject to a physical exam and drug testing.

Corporation Counsel Joseph Macy said the administration will probably meet with firefighter union officials to discuss the HRD opinion and, at least for now, will suspend the required drug test an physical.

“We accept this opinion and will abide by it,” Macy said.

The union would be willing to consider withdrawing their complaint against the city to the two labor agencies, Burns said.

“If we look to settle there will have to be conditions that they won’t ever do this again,” Burns said.

From The Herald News