The Unappreciated Home Depot Hero

It’s more exciting than you think!

Ethics Alarms has dealt with this issue multiple times: an employee violates policy by intervening to prevent a crime or serious injury, and is fired for it.  In 2009, a bank teller named Jim Nicholson turned Batman and foiled a bank robbery, then was fired.. A would-be robber had pushed a black backpack across the bank counter to Nicholson and demanded money. The teller threw the bag to the floor, lunged toward the man and demanded to see a weapon. The robber sprinted for the door with Nicholson in pursuit. Eventually Bat-Teller  knocked the man  to the ground and held him until the police arrived.

The bank had to fire him. The episode could have gone wrong many ways, some resulting in bank customers and employees being injured or killed. Law enforcement repeatedly cautions against such conduct, and the bank’s policies were clear.

In other cases, no-tolerance makes no sense, as no-tolerance often does. In 2012, Ryan Young, then working in the meat department of a Safeway grocery store in Del Rey Oaks, California, witnessed a man beating a pregnant woman, apparently his girlfriend. Young told the man to stop, but when he continued with his assault, shoving and kicking her, Young jumped over his counter, pushed the thug away, and ended the attack.

Safeway fired him. So what would it have had Young do, stand there and wag his finger? This crossed into duty to rescue territory. Young did the right thing, and rather than blindly following a policy that didn’t fit the facts, Safeway should have realized that an exception was called for.. (Eventually public opinion and bad publicity forced Safeway to re-hire the hero). A similar scenario involved a lifeguard who violated his employer’s policy by saving a drowning man off a beach adjacent to the property where he was stationed. Jeff Ellis Management, an Orlando, Florida-based company, fired  21-year-old Tomas Lopez for daring to save a life pro bono, and was similarly pilloried by public opinion. Two lifeguards quit in support of Lopez, and he was also eventually offered his job back. Lopez told Jeff Ellis Management to get bent, or words to that effect. Continue reading

“I’m Warning You: If You Rescue That Drowning Man Over There, You’re Fired!”

“Not your concern…”

The brain-dead and ethics-empty conduct of Jeff Ellis Management, an Orlando, Florida-based company, in its recent firing of 21-year-old lifeguard Tomas Lopez is welcome in one respect, and one respect only. It helps explain the inhuman attitude of the two Brooklyn EMT’s who stood by and watched a woman die of a heart attack as they munched bagels. It begins to explain why two Seattle security guards stood by and allowed a woman to be nearly beaten to death while they looked on. It almost explains how a crowd of people on a California shore, including firefighters, stood by as a man named Raymond Zack took nearly an hour to drown himself. It might even provide some insight into the thought processes of Penn State assistant football coach Mike McQueery, who famously observed Jerry Sandusky as he engaged in a child rape but didn’t stop it. For one of the reasons so many Americans turn off their ethics alarms, reject their humanity and flunk their duty to rescue those in peril is that there are people like  Jeff Ellis, who deem human life less important than business, policy and profit, and who will punish any employee who doesn’t feel similarly and act accordingly.

The company fired Lopez after he pulled a struggling swimmer out of the ocean on Hallandale Beach in Broward County, saving his life. The rescue, you see, occurred 1,500 feet south of the firm’s contracted boundaries for lifeguard service.  Lopez was told that a swimmer was in peril off the neighboring beach, and ran to his rescue, leaving the “protected beach” area where his services had been contracted to serve. The near-drowning victim was swimming in the “unprotected area” without lifeguards, and there’s no point, the management company reasons, to hire it to provide lifeguards if the heroes like Lopez will dive in for free. Continue reading