Council fires lifeguard for throwing boy (8) into deep end

WRC rejects man’s claim for unfair dismissal, saying actions were totally inappropriate

A local authority fired a lifeguard after he picked up an eight-year-old boy, spun him in the air and then threw him into the deep end at a swimming pool where other children were swimming.

The lifeguard and swimming instructor brought an action for unfair dismissal and the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) has now dismissed his claim arising from the incident on February 3rd last year during a primary school coaching session.

The incident was captured on CCTV and a report carried out by a local authority appointed independent investigator into the incident states that the footage shows the boy – who is able to swim – resisting and kicking out before being thrown into the deep end.

The report states that the lifeguard lifts the boy “and the boy is seen kicking as he lifts him. He then lifts the boy up in the air and throws him into the pool backwards. The boy lands in the pool quite a distance away”.


None of the parties are identified in the ruling.

‘Extremely irresponsible’

Dismissing the lifeguard’s claim for unfair dismissal, WRC adjudication officer Seán Reilly said it is difficult to understand how anyone could consider what occurred “to be other than extremely irresponsible, potentially dangerous and totally inappropriate behaviour; no reasonable person could consider otherwise”.

He said: “The behaviour is actually made much worse by the fact that it occurred in a swimming pool, where because of the inherent safety risks, safety and safe behaviour is paramount. Even worse again it involved children in a swimming pool, where the safety risks are even greater and the duty of care towards the children is much greater.”

The lifeguard was suspended on full pay by the council-owned leisure centre pending an investigation and in response to the suspension letter, the lifeguard said: “I know it is my fault. I am sorry.”

Twelve days after the incident, the chairperson of the leisure centre met the parents of the boy and the principal of the school where the boy attended.

Mr Reilly’s report records that the parents and principal “were extremely unhappy that the incident had occurred and were fearful that it could possibly happen again”.

The independent investigator appointed by the leisure centre concluded that the lifeguard’s actions constituted gross misconduct.

‘He got carried away’

The investigator reported that the incident took place during play time and the lifeguard “let his guard down and neglected to continue to work in a professional manner. I believe that he got carried away with the playtime and forgot his role as an instructor and his requirement to uphold good practice in relation to the safety and welfare of children”.

As a result, the lifeguard was dismissed by letter on May 11th but appealed the decision and the appeal was heard by the council director of service responsible for all swimming pools in the county. The lifeguard was dismissed after appeal last July.

The lifeguard stated that no account was taken of his genuine contriteness, his apology, his assurance that there would be no repetition and the fact that he had “owned up” immediately.

The instructor also pointed out that there was no evidence of any injury to the child, nor was there any evidence that the child was a “vulnerable child”.

The lifeguard told the WRC that he was fully aware of the child’s swimming abilities and the decision to dismiss him was excessive and disproportionate and was not justified by the facts and circumstances and did not take into account his previous unblemished and excellent record within the employment.

Gordon Deegan

Gordon Deegan

Gordon Deegan is a contributor to The Irish Times