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Lifeguard fired for saving drowning man; is that wrongful termination?

A story that touches on employment law has grabbed the attention of the national media. Although it has nothing to do with Detroit or Michigan, we thought it might still be worth exploring on our employment law blog since there is a good chance many of our readers have already glanced at the story and have wondered about it.

In Florida, a 21-year-old lifeguard noticed a swimmer in distress and ran to save him. The distressed swimmer almost certainly would have drowned had the lifeguard not intervened. The lifeguard was able to pull him ashore, where a beachgoer who was a nurse attended to him until medics arrived. The man is not reportedly recuperating just fine in a Miami hospital.

However, the man was about 1,500 feet outside of the zone that the company that employed the lifeguard had agreed to patrol. After the company learned what the lifeguard had done, it fired him.

(The company has since said that was the wrong decision and has offered the lifeguard his job back, but he has declined, saying he is ready to move on.)

Now, it does not seem the company violated any of its employees' rights by firing the lifeguard. After all, the lifeguards were only supposed to patrol a certain area and by leaving that area, the lifeguard might have let someone in the perimeter fall into danger.

Still, the idea that a lifeguard could be fired for saving a swimmer's life is pretty ridiculous and shows that sometimes, employers can act in ways that defy logic and common sense. Hopefully, you will never find yourself in such a situation, but if you do, know that you can always speak to an employment law attorney about what's going on to gain some perspective.

Source: CNN, "Florida lifeguard says he's been offered his job back," John Zarrella and Lateef Mungin, July 6, 2012

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