Many Broward County residents heard the news this week that a South Florida lifeguard was fired for rescuing a swimmer outside of his zone of the beach Monday. After intense media scrutiny, the lifeguard and several others who quit in protest have reportedly been offered their jobs back.
The question remains, however, about whether this young man's firing was justifiable under employment law.
The 21-year-old worked as a lifeguard at South Florida's Hallandale Beach, where he was assigned to safeguard a certain perimeter of the beach. On Monday, someone ran to the lifeguard station to tell this man that someone was drowning.
The person who was struggling in the water was about 1,500 feet outside of the lifeguard's section of the beach, swimming in an area that reportedly had signs warning swimmers to enter the water only at their own risk.
The lifeguard said he instinctively ran to rescue the man, although he was aware of a policy that stated lifeguards are supposed to call 911 rather than make a rescue outside of their beach zones.
He was fired after writing up an incident report.
The lifeguard later told news reporters that he still feels confident that saving the swimmer was the right choice to make.
Although the lifeguard has since been offered his job back, he said he will not take it.
The employment law issues in this case are somewhat convoluted, as the lifeguard was aware that he violated a clear company policy. However, sometimes employment policies in and of themselves are not lawful.
While the man's employer has said that liability issues mean lifeguards cannot leave their designated posts, this lifeguard has said he has a personal duty to save someone's life when possible whether he is on duty or not. Furthermore, his beach was reportedly secured by other lifeguards when he went to help with the rescue, so he was not leaving other swimmers at risk.
When employees are fired for questionable reasons, they are often wise to talk to an employment law attorney about whether legal recourse is an option.
Source: CNN, "Florida lifeguard fired after saving drowning man," Lateef Mungin, July 5, 2012