with teen employees, where’s the line between reprimands and firing? (and a niece weighs in)

A reader writes:

This is not a question about something I am dealing with, but there was something in the news in my community that is really generating a lot of discussion. I was wondering what you thought about it.

A bunch of lifeguards (largely teens) were fired from our community pool. The director of the rec center won’t say much, only that it was about social media use. See here and here.

The comments are a mixed bag. Many people think this is extreme, but some also thought if they were sharing pictures of pool patrons, that would be a dealbreaker. Personally, I thought that if there is sexual harassment or racism/other bigotry, I can see where there would be a zero-tolerance policy. But it also made me think: where should the line be between reprimands and dismissal?

I expect the real cause will be leaked, but for the time being it’s generated a lot of conversation among those of us who manage high school or college students, who may not always have a good feel for what’s appropriate. We’re trying to figure out how we would have responded in various situations.

I know we just heard from a niece, but this question was too perfect to pass up bringing in a different niece: 17-year-old M., who’s in her second year of lifeguarding and thus is my lifeguard expert (and who has been making occasional appearances here since she was 12). Here’s our email exchange about this letter.

Me: So you’re a lifeguard. We obviously don’t have all the details here, but what’s your take on this?

M.: We don’t know exactly what was in the chats, but it sounds like it was “raunchy jokes” and in that case, I don’t think the guards should have been fired. But if a guard was making inappropriate jokes about another lifeguard, then the perpetrator should be let go.

However, because so many guards were fired, it seems like the management overreacted because probably not all of those guards said hurtful things.

From the comments and articles, it sounds like this pool has a very bad culture over​all, but the managers do have the right to fire​ people​ at any time because lifeguards are (to my knowledge) always hired at-will.  As long as the pool remains safely guarded with the correct number of lifeguards who get sufficient breaks, I would say the managers are still doing their jobs, except for keeping morale high.

Me: People are going to have group chats and stuff like that with their coworkers, especially when you get a group of people who are all around the same age. But it’s also true that sometimes it spirals out of control. Where do you think the right boundaries are for this kind of thing with coworkers?

M.: It probably differs at every pool, and each situation is different, which is why this is a difficult issue. In this particular pool, one of the guards was so hurt or disturbed by the group chat that they actually showed it to the superiors, believing it would be bad enough to warrant their attention. In my work group chats, there is very little that would get anybody fired, and I don’t think anybody would show it to our boss.

If I were a lifeguard manager, or whoever fired these people, I would draw the line at bullying or harassment. If one or more specific people were targeted in the chats, I would take action, and if it were bad enough, would let people go. But it is a delicate subject because the texts are not part of the job, so I would tread very lightly, as the whole thing is an invasion of privacy.

Me: So from the manager point of view, the concern is sometimes that the people involved in the group chat think that everyone is okay with, for example, raunchy jokes … but that really there’s one or more people who feel really uncomfortable with it, and who feel like they’re being subjected to a sexualized workplace, which can get into sexual harassment issues. Because a lot of times, people won’t speak up if they feel uncomfortable about something … which leads to everyone else assuming they’re fine with it, but they’re actually not. That’s why workplaces will often shut down any kind of chat like that, because it can lead to legal issues for them even if it’s all happening during non-work hours.

That said, with young employees, like lifeguards tend to be, I think it generally makes sense to just explain this to them rather than firing them for it (unless it was really egregious, and I’d put “sharing photos of pool patrons” in the really egregious category). People aren’t born knowing this stuff, and the way they learn it is usually that some manager takes the time to explain it to them. What do you think about that — does it ring true to you?

M.: That is true, and I didn’t really think about it.

I know that my coworkers have lots of different group chats, so you just have to know your audience. But in person, it seems that everyone is chill with one another and can say whatever they want, too. A chat just seems more permanent. Probably, if nobody was bullied or harassed personally, then the managers should just explain everything in an inservice, so people can adjust the chats accordingly.

But, also, it depends on the culture of the workplace. At a pool I used to work at, we didn’t have any group chats (that I know of), or at least any with the majority or all of the staff. Almost all communication was through email, with the boss CC’d. It was not a super fun environment, but strictly professional. At my job now, many more friendships are made, and it is a very fun place to work, and there are more chats, and those who don’t want to be in the chats just leave them.

Me: Yeah, culture is always a huge factor. You are weirdly smart about this stuff. Do you feel like you understand workplace stuff better than most of your friends? Where do you think it comes from? I’d love to take the credit, but I don’t think I’m actually responsible for it.

M.: ​Thank you! I just think because I have had a few different jobs with some bad managers, some so/so, and some good, I am able to see what works and what doesn’t. I think that people my age who work understand this, because people always think about what they wish a manager would do.

Me: AND because of fervent reading of Ask a Manager, right?

M.: Yes of course.

{ 241 comments… read them below }

    1. SpaceySteph*

      I am amazed a 17 year old wrote that! Clearly employment blogging runs in the family!

    2. Annonymouse*

      16 life guards is a heck of a lot though, Jack.
      (Update on second link comments/article).

      It sounds like everyone on the group chat got fired which isn’t fair if only a few of them where engaging in inappropriate behaviour (mocking or bullying other staff members or patrons, making overly sexual comments).

      It’s an invasion of privacy in that it is a private conversation that doesn’t have any connection to their work (relatively speaking) which doesn’t impact their work.

      It’s comparable to me making a dirty joke to a coworker socially and another coworker overhears and reports me to my boss. And I get fired. (Not racist or otherwise offensive to anyone just sexual.) wasn’t directed at them or said loudly.

      And we can all spot a bad boss (credit stealer, micromanager, doesn’t give you guidelines or direct you in anyway the list goes on).

      A boss that is strict but fair isn’t bad (teenagers might not tell that but reasonable people can).

        1. Rainbow Hair Chick*

          Maybe there could be a monthly feature with the nieces! I love their comments too!

  1. Essie*

    It’s good that you aren’t looking to get into law, Alison, because this is SO leading the witness! :p

  2. Andy*

    Based on how many of the staff were fired right in the middle of the season, I’ll bet it was unflattering pictures of pool guests with hurtful captions. Just a guess. That’s a level 10 response and pictures of guests is a level 10 thing.

    1. justsomeone*

      Yes to this. I’ve worked at pools in the past and even in cultures where the staff can get away with a lot, that would cross a line.

    2. MsMorlowe*

      That was my first thought, but reading through some of the articles on it I’m getting a different impression: they say that the chat was mainly used for out of work reasons, and I’m thinking it’s more likely that there were clique issues. As in, the majority in the group were all part of one friend group, and used the group chat the most, possibly even forgetting that there were other staff members not in their friend group in the chat–and that the things they talked about made those others uncomfortable (my best guess would be making fun of others or telling raunchy stories/jokes about people not in the group but who they didn’t realise had friends in the group, or something along those lines).

      I’m not leaping to “posting pictures of pool patrons” because they mention raunchy jokes in the articles, and because as you say, it’s a level 10 offence, so I think it would be pretty hard even for inexperienced workers (and it seems like the majority had been working this job for the past few summers) to try to justify doing that and *not* being fired for it.

      I’m also basing this in part on something I saw happen a few years ago where some people got into a lot of trouble socially and (I think, some of them at least) professionally because someone took screenshots of a group chat they were in and posted the pictures to social media. There were a lot of nasty messages in the thread and the fallout was pretty big.

      1. MsMorlowe*

        Can’t edit, but to clarify: I think it would have been dodgy to fire the lifeguards over messages in a private group chat, but my understanding is that it was a group chat that had been specifically set up for work but many members were using it as a personal group chat. I think that’s a similar distinction to, say, using a work email address vs a personal email address.

        1. JessaB*

          My worry about this is when are they doing it. Are they talking to people who should be watching the pool? Why are there mobile phones in general?

          1. MsMorlowe*

            I have a group chat set up for work and we mostly use it for scheduling: who’s on when, does anyone want to swap, etc, and I can see why that would be incredibly useful for lifeguards. I can understand if there were issues with when the employees were chatting, but I don’t get the impression that that was the main concern from the articles about it–it seems to be more focused on the content of the messages.

          2. Kimberly*

            That was my thought also. We have had 3 lifeguards fired at my pool this summer.
            1. For ignoring an assault happening right in front of her. As in I had to pass her to tell a group of 5 boys 15 years old or older to take their hands off of a younger girl (13 yo is my estimate) They had her hands pinned and were tickling her, slapping her, and touching her through her bathing suit. The boys then threatened me and then thought better of it. (I had my phone and had called 911 and had them still on the line.) When I asked the lifeguard why she didn’t stop the attack – the reply was she was laughing. The girl’s parents refused to press charges. One of the good life guards told me the fired lifeguard still was complaining that they fired her for no reason because the victim was laughing. (And gasping and saying no stop it stop touching me)

            The other two were fired for playing with their phones, sitting on the deck, and taking selfies with other kids when they were supposed to be in the chair on duty. They also let kids they go to school with do things like throw little kids/poor swimmers in the deep end. There was at least 1 time a bystander had to jump in and grab a struggling swimmer because the guard was too busy with his phone.

    3. Carrie*

      My first guess was that it was a crackdown on photos. A bunch of teens in swimsuits, straddling the line between being under 18 and over it…even light-hearted pranking or goofing off could technically violate sex offender cell phone use.

      1. Lily in NYC*

        The mom of one of the kids wrote in the comments that there was one boy who felt rejected by the group and was hitting on all of the girls and making them uncomfortable. Apparently he wanted to get revenge on them for not including him in their nights out and he and his mom printed out a bunch of the raunchier jokes/messages and complained. And that it had nothing to do with photos being shared – they got in trouble for raunchy jokes. Obviously, i have no idea if this is true or not but I wanted to share what I read.

        1. LadyL*

          If this is true then I am outraged. That would essentially mean that managers aided employee harassment.

    4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Ooo, my guess was that they were exchanging inappropriate photos of themselves that could border on creating a sexual harassment situation.

      Remember the letter we received from the college student who was a supervisor of other (student) tour guides? They had someone they managed who was being really moany, so Alison advised on how to handle it. And then in the update, it turned out that a new hire circulated a not-work-appropriate photo of himself in a group chat. This situation reminds me of that letter.

    5. Magenta Sky*

      I’m reminded of the Playboy model who was sentenced to community service after being prosecuted for posting a picture of a naked woman from her gym.

      The problem with this sort of conversation is that there are no details (and unlikely to ever be enough to really make a good call). It would be anything from “the person complaining needs to grow up and stop whining” to “the people sending the message should go to prison,” and literally everything in between.

      The devil is always in the details.

      1. Tempest*

        The playboy model should have gone to prison for what she did. She took pictures in the locker room and shared them to however many tens of thousands of public followers she had. That is a level above sharing unflattering swimsuit photos of pool patrons in public, and I think that’s a pretty sh*tty thing to do as well. But sharing a photo you took when someone assumed they had privacy, when your career has made you something of a public figure, who will have a higher follower count than the average person as a result, is actually a crime.

  3. Observer*

    It’s obviously really, really hard to tell because no one is talking. But, based on what is being said, it sounds like both the lifeguards and the management bear some blame.

    They quote one of the lifeguards insisting they they didn’t say anything problematic, but that’s clearly not the case, since at least one of their co-workers complained. So, you have to wonder about her judgement, at least. On the other hand, the way the management is handling it also raises questions about their judgement. I get that they can’t release specifics. But when you fire so many people – and do something that has such a high profile effect on the community, communications is key. Not only are they not communicating, but the little they have let slip really doesn’t sound like a firing offense unless there had been some warning – in fact it sounds like the classic use case for a graduated warning -> firing system, with steps in between. What they’ve let slip makes it sound like they’ve jumped straight to firing for misbehavior that should have merited a stern warning.

    1. Stellaaaaa*

      It really, really depends on the offenses. If, as I wondered, it was about drinking on the job or coming in stoned, you absolutely need to fire them on the spot. These people were responsible for keeping children safe.

      1. sunny-dee*

        In reading, it sounds to me like management was doing a graduated thing. They fired 6 lifeguards right off, then called in more the next day for a talking to. The problem with staffing came up when a number of those essentially threw a fit and quit.

        I would assume the city can’t say much more than “social media” use, but it’s kind of telling that none of the lifeguards are showing *any* of the texts. They keep saying they were just “funny” and “jokes” and “someone must have a different sense of humor.” Reading that, my first thought is that what they were doing was grossly unprofessional and the city was worried about something (either a patron complaining or a harassment complaint) and so they went after the instigators hard. I didn’t even think of drug / alcohol use, but yes. That is a management red flag — if they were planning parties with underage drinking or something, you’d want to shut that down fast.

        1. Humble Schoolmarm*

          When confronted, even with something truly egregious, a lot of teens go straight for “funny”, “joke” and “no big deal”. It doesn’t mean they necessarily did anything horrible, but it doesn’t mean they didn’t either.

          1. Dust Bunny*

            My experience has been that it very often doesn’t mean they didn’t.

            Not a guarantee, but those are also the go-to responses for people trying to minimize bullying or seriously crass behavior.

      2. Observer*

        Sure. I’m not saying it’s impossible that they needed to fire these lifeguards. But, given what they are saying, not saying and leaking, it sounds more like a problem that was blown out of proportion. Certainly their (lack of) communications lends credence to the employees’ claims that they were given no explanation.

        1. LKW*

          But an employer doesn’t need to tell anyone why an employee was fired. Heck, it might even be policy to not share that information. Ever.

          1. Observer*

            Sure. But in this case, the community is being affected by this, so you would expect them to have SOME story beyond a leak about “raunchy posts.”

            Like I said, everything together seems to point to misbehavior that the management over-reacted to.

            1. Elise*

              I have no idea if the punishment fit the crime, but I work for a municipality and they never release specific personnel information, no matter how it seems for public relations. The community may be upset, but the employees/former employees still have a right to expect personnel information to stay confidential.

        2. Magenta Sky*

          The fire people not loudly showing the offending texts to the whole world tends to counteract that.

        3. Kimberly*

          I have two lines of thought about this
          1 – These were minor kids that means there are more privacy concerns in most people’s minds. So if the problem was inappropriate photographs that both parties knew about and consented to being posted. If it was adults that would be bad judgment. With minor including older teens depending on state law and other factors – now you are into underage porn and the possibility of kids being charged and put on the sex offender registry for life. Marion County Attorney Ed Bull had been threatening to prosecute a teen age girl for sexually exploiting herself. The girl sent a boy pictures of herself in underwear. Other kids involve took plea deals because of the threat of being labeled a sexual predator. This girl refused was backed by the ACLU and won. The US congress is considering a poorly written law that would mandate a 15-year federal prison sentence for kids that do this.

          2 people on the front lines sometimes take what they think they know about the law mix with their own view points and way over apply a rule/concept. For example an old principal took the “Teachers can’t be FB Friends with current students” rule and sai that he was going to have anyone who was friends with any underaged person. When asked he specifically said “Yes, that includes your own kids”. Of course people went to HR and HR and Tech training had a conversation with the principal about the real policy. The real policy was quite liberal. No friending students in the district unless
          1. The were your children
          2. Members of your extended family
          3. You were friends the the parents and by extention the kids. (You know how groups of parents friend their kids and their kids’ friends to keep an eye on their actions)
          4. You were part of a group – church, sports league, service group that had a social media page and you were interacting with the kids on line through that. (My friend had two boys who were huge basketball players in the region. She was the communication person for her kids’ team. She used a FB page to post information about pratices, directions to games, cancellations due to bad weather/flooding. Basically instead of a phone tree she had a FB page.

    2. Muriel Heslop*

      I teach 8th grade and I run into this thinking a lot: I think it’s fine = it is fine. Those aren’t the same thing, and it’s really hard to get my students (and all too often, their parents) to see that it isn’t the same.

      Also, it reads like there was a supervisor on the group text as well? Also potentially problematic.

      1. Observer*

        True. But these are not 8th graders. And, they are in a position where they should know better. So, thank you for trying to teach the 8th graders, so they turn into adults who actually DO know better.

        1. blackcat*

          8th graders are 14. Some of the teens involved here are 15. So… not much different.

          From my high school teaching days, I can say that *most* 18 year olds seem to get that. The bigger hurdle with high school kids was generally, “I know *your parent* is fine with X, but that doesn’t mean that X is okay or that your friends’ parents are okay with it.”

          1. animaniactoo*

            8th graders are more in the 12 to early 12 range. 14 year olds tend to be HS freshmen and sophomores.

            1. Meghan*

              Um. I went to high school in the United States and everyone was 13 or 14 in eighth grade.

            2. Myrin*

              Huh? Is the age-grade relation really that different between countries? I’ve always found that while our (Germany’s) and the US’s school systems are quite different, the ages are usually the same, and I was 12 in 6th grade and 14 in 8th grade.

            3. Ellen*

              If you are five in kindergarten, and most are, then you are six in the first grade. That makes most people 13 in the 8th grade, although by the end of the year, many are 14. I don’t actually know of many people that were jumped ahead a year like you describe.

            4. Judy (since 2010)*

              In my state, you enter Kindergarten if you’re 5 by August 1 before school starts, so a normally progressed 8th grader would be 13 by August 1.

            5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Uh, I was 14 in 8th grade and 16 in 10th grade. I certainly had younger classmates, but literally everyone was 13 when they graduated (and no one had skipped a grade). I think your age ranges may be off.

            6. N.J.*

              Thus is probably beating s dead horse, but I’ve included a quick reference list of United States grades and ages below, hopefully helpful as more of an at a glance reference.

              1st grade-6-7
              2nd grade-7-8
              3rd grade-8-9
              4th grade-9-10
              5th grade-10-11
              6th grade-11-12
              7th grade-12-13
              8th grade-13-14
              9th grade-14-15
              10th grade-15-16
              11th grade-16-17
              12th grade-17-18

              1. Kimberly*

                For the US and easy way to remember the Have to be by X date age to be in grade is Grade number + 5
                First grade 1 + 5 = 6
                Second grade 2 + 5 = 7
                so on till
                12 th grade is 12 + 5 = 17

                That does not take into account red shirting. (Holding kids out of K or 1st for 1 year. Often done with late summer birthdays also in families with a history of Learning disabilities.

            7. Muriel Heslop*

              8th graders in the United States are usually 13-15. With red-shirting, we see more and more 15 year olds in our classes.

            8. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

              My kid turns 14 in September this year and starts 8th grade next month. I started him in school as early as our state would allow. His youngest friend that is also in 8th grade just turned 13. The cut-off to be in the 8th grade here would be turn 13 by August 1st. (The actual age cut-off is to be 5 by Aug 1st to start Kindergarten, but I extrapolated to his current grade)

              1. An Inspector of Gadgets*

                Early-school-year birthdays can really make this complicated! My brother and I both have fall birthdays and lived in a state where you could turn 5 up till November when I started kindergarten, but had moved to an August-cutoff state by the time he started, so we’re n years different in age but n+1 years different in school grades.

            9. Kathlynn*

              yeah, I started Kindergarden at 4 turning 5, and I was 14 in gr.8 (got kept behind a year). I would only have been 12 turning 13. And our cut of is before/around November.

        2. LKW*

          I was just saying to someone that we all view the world with the thought that everyone sees things the way we do. As we get older most, but not all, of us get more perspective that others have different motivations and think about things differently.

          I expect them to be much more self-focused and have limited perspective. It’s not a bad thing, just part of development.

      2. Michelle*

        I read many of the comments below the linked articles and one of those identified herself as the mother of a lifeguard who was not fired. Her version stated that a male lifeguard was using the chat to creep/hit on/say inappropriate things to female coworkers/lifeguards. When he did not get the response he was hoping for, he showed messages to his parent(s) and together they went to the management. Of course, we don’t know if that was true or not, but if it was, firing everyone seems like an overreaction.

        1. Bex*

          It doesn’t sound like they fired everyone though? According to the first article, 40-50 employees were using the GroupMe app but only 6-7 were fired

    3. Blue Anne*

      I’m reminded of my job as a summer camp counselor. The camp director – who was in his mid thirties – loved making puns and sexual innuendos during camp announcements etc. that would go way over the heads of the kids, but be picked up on by the teenage staff, who all thought it was hilarious. Except me. I thought it was inappropriate and told him so. He thanked me for being “his conscience” but kept doing it.

      All my colleagues would have told you there wasn’t anything problematic being said.

      1. Stellaaaaa*

        My thinking was along similar lines. Scenarios like this spiral in a way that makes it easy for a group to claim that someone was lying about feeling harassed or that she was blowing something out of proportion when really she wasn’t.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Ugh, I hate when adults are skeevy in this manner. It’s never ok, but it’s especially problematic when you have an adult in their late 20s/30s (or older) failing to exercise basic professionalism with teenagers. I had a teacher who struggled with those boundaries when I was in high school, and I was one of the only students who thought it was a problem (he wasn’t being predatory, but he made comments that just weren’t ok in the student/teacher context). Everyone else thought he was either cool or being cheesy. Being one of the only people willing to articulate that it’s not ok is a really stressful position, but it’s so much worse when you’re a teenager.

      3. Dust Bunny*

        That’s, um, really gross.

        Yeah, I would not have been OK with that, even as a twenty-ish with a questionable sense of humor of her own.

    4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I suspect they didn’t fully understand that a group chat with all your coworkers, during work time and possibly about work things, could be subject to work rules. I see younger folks do this so often—because the medium for communication is relatively social/informal, they apply social rules instead of work rules.

      I have no idea if firing was (un)warranted, but I there is certainly a range of inappropriate statements that would, imo, merit/require firing and not coaching. I’m thinking of the story where Harvard revoked admission for incoming admits who had posted inappropriately on a Facebook group as an example of certain statements being so egregious they cannot be dealt with on a progressive-discipline basis.

    5. Magenta Sky*

      Unfortunately, when it’s a matter of firing for cause, explaining why publicly really isn’t an option. That’s when there’s a real chance of lawyers being involved, and nobody but the lawyers benefit from that.

  4. RA*

    My bet would be that there is some level of bullying or harassment going on, and the person being harassed is either another coworker, management, or pool patrons. IMO, that would be grounds for immediate dismissal. Otherwise, Alison and M are right that the managers are being way too harsh on the kids. I also believe M’s insight that it is generally difficult to get fired from a pool, as lifeguarding is generally a seasonal and low-paying position, so an overreaction makes less sense. I hope we get an update!

    Great insight M!

  5. Stellaaaaa*

    In this instance, it might be useful to think of it more like a friend group than a group of employees. I can absolutely see how a chat between friends can go in multiple inappropriate directions and for no one to have a problem with that…besides the one person who’s on the fringes of the group and is really only there to talk about work stuff.

    From my experience with this type of job (summer camps too), there’s just a whole lot of teen angst floating around. You’re hanging out in your swimsuit all day and lots of your coworkers have some sort of romantic attachments to each other. That stuff gets super messy and often it’s considered “just part of” doing that kind of job, and it doesn’t have to go too far before a group chat becomes uncomfortable, especially if some of the employees aren’t teenagers anymore. On the other hand, it could be something as simple as comments about drinking or smoking weed, which is also fairly unavoidable at teen summer jobs.

    1. Roscoe*

      Yeah, I was thinking of that too. I didn’t read the articles, but I guess I’m a bit confused. Was it a group chat that happened to include a bunch of co-workers, or was it a work chat that was supposed to be used only for work? Because I think that would be different. I’ll be honest, some of the texts I’ve had with a few of the co-workers I’m friends with probably wouldn’t go over great if my manager saw them, but they are my texts on my time so it really shouldn’t matter. However, if I was using work email or IM, I think that would be different.

      If though it was a bunch of “friends” who happen to be co-workers, I think it makes it tough. Because if you only leave out one or 2 people, they feel excluded and that is a thing. However by including everyone, you may not get the ability to joke around how you would like. (I’m assuming it isn’t really anything serious)

      1. paul*

        and there are things where, regardless of *how* you learn about them you have to act–anything where people are being endangered. I kind of doubt that’s the case here, but if, say, they messaged each other about how they were toking up or drinking in the bathroom during their shifts or something.

      2. Devil Fish*

        It was a work group chat through the app GroupMe (referred to as “Grope Me” at every job I’ve been in that used it—I am an adult but I’ve mostly worked high-turnover/throwaway jobs). Some workplaces police it better than others.

  6. Tim C.*

    Is it possible they were let go for simply looking at their phones and not paying attention to swimmers?

    1. Tuckerman*

      That was my thought. And their manager knew they were on social media during their shifts because of time stamped posts.

    2. JulieBulie*

      I thought that too. Lifeguards are supposed to be watching the people and the water.

    3. DouDou Paille*

      That was my thought too. Aren’t lifeguards supposed to be paying close attention to the pool at all times, considering that people can drown in a matter of minutes, and sometimes drowning people do not even appear to be in much distress? It really takes a high level of concentration, IMO, which would severely suffer if you’re constantly glancing at your phone.

      1. KR*

        I’m not sure about these pools, but the ones in my neighborhood have two or three people on at once. One watches the pool and the other two either skim the pool, clean up, read a book, fiddle on their phones, or handle signing people into the pool. They switch off at the lifeguard chair every half hour to an hour. I could see how these teens would have a lot of downtime to text.

        1. RA*

          That’s right. When I was a kid (this is before texting and social media was really a thing), lifeguards would spend a lot of time reading on the job, especially when things were quiet or there were multiple people watching the pool. Nobody was fired for reading while lifegaurding, so I imagine the same would be true for social media

          1. Hotstreak*

            At all of the pools where I’ve worked, a person would get fired for reading on duty unless there were zero people in the pool area. If it was really slow, we would be asked to clean, organize, etc. Things like reading or checking phone messages could only occur on breaks which were every few hours.

        2. Scotty Smalls*

          I believe this is more like a water park since they mention a lazy river. No lifeguard reads at the community water park near me.

      2. Anxa*

        So, I visit a lot of pools. It’s literally my job this summer and if we see any LGs on their phones without eyes on the water, we can shut a pool down.

        But more often the pools are overstaffed. Which actually isn’t always good, because if you have 3 guards and just need 1, the other two guards can become more of distraction.

    4. Borgette*

      I’m a local and familiar with this pool. In my experience, the lifeguards on duty have always been alert and present. The articles specify that the conversations were outside of work hours – there’s no reason to think that the guards were looking at their phones while on duty.

      1. LW*

        Yes, I have been to this pool many times (this year even) and have found the lifeguards to be alert and present as well.

  7. Just cause I shake my booty doesn't mean you can take a picture of it*

    I seem to remember there have been a couple of recent issues, one in the U.S. and one in the U.K., of a Playboy model and a body builder facing invasion of privacy lawsuits for taking photos of gym members and posting them with snarky comments. One of those was in the locker room (more egregious) and one was in the public area of a gym, but still wildly inappropriate and possibly illegal, depending on jurisdictions. The pool management may have had those well-publicized incidents in mind when they fired the lifeguards.

    1. Fake old Converse shoes*

      Yes! The model took pictures of a woman changing in the locker room and then fat shamed her on social media. I remember it because it’s my gym nightmare come true.

        1. Bookworm*

          Yeah, it was actually comforting to me how universal the backlash seemed to be. I didn’t hear anyone defending her actions or excusing them.

        2. Magenta Sky*

          She pled no contest and was sentenced to community service. It was a lenient sentence under California law, because the judge believed that she screwed up on the social media post and didn’t intend it to be posted to the entire world (only to one specific friend).

          She also lost a fairly decent paying job, and is unlikely to ever work in the same field again.

      1. Devil Fish*

        “it’s my gym nightmare come true.”

        Seriously. When my s/o offered to add me to their gym membership and I told them I’m too fat to go to the gym, this is exactly the kind of garbage I was thinking about. :(

    2. Ophelia Bumblesmoop*

      I suspect this is the direction this story will go. Because if those lifeguards were doing absolutely nothing wrong, they would have taken screenshots and published them to prove it. But there aren’t any screenshots, which leads me to suspect that they knew they were being inappropriate and don’t want that to come out.

      If the lifeguards were not discussing coworkers or members, then they should have simply received a warning. But once pictures of members were posted or they started complaining about a coworker or manager, then there needs to be a bigger disciplinary action. Mocking members through photos is unacceptable and should be a firing offense right off the bat.

      1. Roscoe*

        Possibly. But these are also teenagers. It could also just as easily be “I don’t want my parents seeing some of the things me and my friends talk about in our private time”

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          If I was a parent of one of those kids (who was under 18), I’d be damn well demanding they hand over the phone so I could see what the messages were.

          1. Bex*

            Absolutely! And if the kids who were fired really have nothing to hide, then couldn’t they release the messages and clear their names? The whole thing just seems fishy

            1. MsMorlowe*

              Well, I mean, there’s having nothing to hide and then there’s telling the internet the specific dirty jokes you were telling your friends. There are plenty of jokes I’ve told to friends–and laughed at from friends–that I wouldn’t repeat in other contexts and “forever associated with google search results for my name” is one of them.

            2. The OG Anonsie*

              I’m surprised by how many of the comments are assuming the messages must have been dramatically inappropriate because the fired lifeguards haven’t shared them with the public. It wouldn’t occur to me to do that if I were in their shoes– didn’t occur to me to want them to do it reading the article, even –and if I thought I had been wrongfully terminated and was looking at my options I would be actively trying to make sure none of that got out before I had settled on it.

              Ultimately, the priority here is not (and should not) be to sway public opinion. A lot of people looking at stuff like this seem to think that presenting evidence to the court of public opinion is crucial, but these aren’t celebrities buffing their image. These are regular people trying to settle a dispute that may turn into a legal one, and putting info out for the public who wants to peer into the situation is not constructive for anyone involved.

      2. kb*

        It’s possible the messages are things that aren’t terrible, but still aren’t things you want your name tied to on Google forever, you know?

        1. Roscoe*

          Exactly. There are plenty of things I’m not “ashamed” of, yet I wouldn’t want out there on the internet forever

      3. Devil Fish*

        “if those lifeguards were doing absolutely nothing wrong, they would have taken screenshots and published them to prove it.”

        Maybe, if they’d thought that far ahead. Every time I’ve left an employer who used GroupMe (the chat group app they were using), I was kicked from the group chat immediately, and there’s no telling how far it all went back and how long they kept the messages on their individual phones.

        Also, since it sounds like it was a male coworker harassing his female coworkers, who got upset by their reactions and told his parents on them (?!!), and then the parents took incriminating screenshots from the group chat to the employer to retaliate against the women who rejected their son—this whole thing is a goddamn mess is what I’m saying.

  8. NewReader*

    From the link given:
    I’m happy to help with some details. My child is a lifeguard at the pool and was a part of the group chat. First, and most important, this is not what I would call social media use. These kids all installed a texting app and were simply group messaging each other. Yes, as my child shared, there were messages about parties, swapping shifts, kids meeting and playing volleyball,etc. There was language. There were jokes. They are college students for the most part, they act like college students. BUT THIS WAS IN NO WAY PUBLIC. Why is it this employer feels private messages between lifeguards and friends is any of their business? My understanding of how this became an issue is this: a young man, a coworker of my daughter and her friends, was feeling somewhat rejected by the group. He then showed his mother the messages, and the mother and son together went to management. The reason the boy was having issues with his coworkers???? Perhaps it was the harassment and frequent messaging to all the female lifeguards that was very unwelcome. My daughter shared with me earlier in the summer how this boy was a bit odd and was messaging her often despite my daughter’s relationship that was known to him. She has heard similar reports from many other female lifeguards. I don’t know for certain, but the speculation is this boy was seeking revenge and took screen shots as far back as a year to retaliate against his coworkers. I don’t personally know this boy, but the lifeguards who were fired and all those who have quit in allegiance were great kids. Many in college, many going on multiple years of service at this pool, many never in trouble before. Richmond Heights has made a big mistake. To the parents perusing lawsuits…good for you!

    1. HMM*

      Thanks for filling in some details. This wasn’t a public matter, but I do see it as an employment one. I don’t know why this boy was feeling rejected by the group, but generally in a workplace it’s not acceptable to exclude anyone – being weird isn’t a good reason. From a manager’s perspective, it does make sense to shut down a group chat that fosters a division in your employees. Now firing, maybe that was extreme. But it sounds like the kids should at least take a look at how they might have contributed to the problem.

      1. HMM*

        For the record, if the boy was harassing the girls, that is definitely wrong and he should be punished for it. If the girls had previously brought up the harassment and nothing was done, than the employer was almost certainly in the wrong to fire them because of any exclusion. But it seems as if everyone misstepped handling this maturely: the employer, those fired, AND the boy.

        1. Marisol*

          How do you think these teenage girls should have responded to their harasser then, if not by excluding him? Your take on this is troubling to me.

            1. Marisol*

              Yeah, it’s really not that black and white. It would be nice if it were, but it’s not. Not only is it not reasonable to expect teenage girls and very young women to know how to respond appropriately to harassment, if they did report it, would they then be obligated to socialize with a creep? If someone is being creepy, you are allowed to exclude them, and management should support that choice.

              1. HMM*

                Management should discipline the boy, including firing him. If they don’t, I agree, the girls are in the right to exclude. And the blame then falls on management for not doing their job.

                Your point about young girls not knowing how to deal with harassers is true. I certainly don’t blame them for not wanting to work with this guy (assuming this side of the story is what happened). But in a workplace the right avenue to pursue the issue IS to report it. Otherwise how would anyone know to address the issue?

                100% the fault is with the guy because nobody should be harassing anyone. But the reality is the harassment has happened and we must then grapple with the “what’s next?” in the context of the workplace.

      2. AnotherAlison*

        It’s not acceptable to exclude them from work-related activities, such as meetings, but that doesn’t mean you have to welcome social chats from the guy or invite him to non-work parties. One of my sons is weird (social maturity is a couple years behind), so I get the “mama bear” instinct, but to me this reeks of the PTA mom butting in where she shouldn’t.

        I think the kids possibly deserved a reprimand, but unless there was more to it, like harassment and bullying of the boy, firing seems extreme.

      3. Being harassed is awful, don't put up with it*

        If the excluded young man’s behavior crossed the line from weird to harassment (as NewReader’s post suggests) then I think that his coworkers were right to exclude him. If he’s harassing his female coworkers one of the best ways to indicate that his behavior is unwelcome is by exclusion. When I was being harassed by a coworker (and my boss did nothing to address the behavior) I ignored and excluded my coworker, which helped to some degree. Too often women and girls are told to just put up with harassing behavior for the sake of the harasser.

        1. la bella vita*

          I’m so sorry that happened to you. You’re so right about women too frequently being given the message that they should be “polite” and tolerate inappropriate behavior.

        2. eee*

          here’s something i can also see in this context: people ARE “bullying” this guy…because of his behavior. multiple lifeguards are aware of a dude’s creepy behavior, and start talking about it and making fun of him for being creepy and gross. out of context, it looks like everyone’s being really cruel to one guy. Again, all hypothetical. But that’s something I can easily see teens doing: recognizing a behavior is gross and not okay, not knowing how to talk to the bosses about it, and so talking about it themselves in a way that can easily be misconstrued into “wow they’re so mean to him, they’re making fun of him” etc.

      4. VintageLydia*

        Well, if he was being excluded because he was being inappropriate to the women in the group like this comment alleges, then I’d find that a good reason.

        1. Hotstreak*

          Especially considering that Lifeguarding is such an individual job. The only necessary communication is a brief professional description of any issues in the lifeguard’s zone when they’re being relieved. Any extra conversations are going to be socialization 99% of the time, and nobody should be obligated to be friends with their creepy coworkers!

      5. Roscoe*

        So here is my question then. At what point is it ok to just not click with someone and not want them included in things? I have a bunch of co-workers, some I’m friends with, some not. I don’t think I should have to include all of them in a group text if some of us are doing something. Because what can happen is sometimes you may say something, and as it seems happened here, someone can take it out of context.

        1. Stellaaaaa*

          According to the first article, there were 50 people in the group chat, so it implicitly wasn’t something like a group text between me and my 4 best work pals. The chat was used to arrange shift coverage and plan meetings, so I’d assume you couldn’t opt out of it or exclude others from it. Whatever was going on in the chat, I’d consider it extremely poor judgment, even for teens, to be careless about what you’re texting to your closest buddies in a text chat that 50 people are participating in.

        2. MsMorlowe*

          If it’s a work chat (set up to arrange scheduling issues, or project management), then everyone has to be included. If it’s drinks after work, then while you don’t HAVE to include everyone, it’s pretty rude not to extend an invitation (and not resent the person for taking you up on it). If you’re moving on to somewhere else after the after-work drinks, there’s no obligation to invite anyone you’re not actually friends with. Same goes for if it’s a less open activity (in my view, that would be anything that requires a ticket–I’m contrasting here between “defined event that we preplanned” vs “hey, we’re going to the pub for one or two”)

          If you have a group chat that happens to include people you work with, but you mostly don’t talk about work, then that’s private and you don’t have to invite anyone else–however, if you find that you are making decisions that do affect work, either substantially or frequently, then that’s a sign to move that kind of talk to a more neutral group chat where everyone affected has the opportunity to weigh in. (Say, you have a group chat with two close friends from work, and find that you frequently use it to swap shifts–that’s not fair, and you should be including other people you work with who will be affected by those scheduling decisions)

        3. INTP*

          I think the deal is that a majority of people on a team can’t exclude a minority. If you’re in a department of 10 people and three of you really click and want to hang out a lot, it probably won’t be a problem. But if you’re on a team of 4-5 and three of you want to spend a lot of time together without the other two, it very well could. And it wouldn’t be inherently exclusionary to WANT to hang out without the others, it would just be a matter of being aware that it could cause bad feelings in the workplace and sometimes work needs to take priority over friendship with coworkers. (I think that’s at the root of a lot of workplace clique and exclusion drama, the idea that “I didn’t have bad intentions, therefore I can’t be blamed for bad consequences.”)

      6. Observer*

        Again, this is where it gets tricky. If the kid was being rejected because HE was creeping on girls, which is what the commenter is claiming, then, HE should be the one being fired, the not the kids who are rejecting it. This is not about being “weird” but about crossing boundaries that do need to be respected. Yes, there are better ways of dealing with a workplace creep, and the management should talk to them about it, but firing them for essentially defending themselves is over the top.

        Of course, no one really knows. And, again, the way the management is handling the communications around the issue really does not help.

        1. Susie Cruisie*

          I disagree, in part. Yes, if the “inappropriate kid” was inappropriate, his co-workers had a responsibility to report his behavior to their supervisor and he should have been handled, possibly terminated. If, however, they did not report his behavior but chose to dish out their own “punishment” for his initial inappropriate behavior by bullying and harassing him in return, then they are all guilty and need to be handled similarly. Just because “he started it” doesn’t mean they have carte blanche to handle how they choose. You don’t get to defend yourself at all costs.

          That being said, I tend to think this has more to do with either inappropriate comments to minors (or photos) or photos and comments about pool members. I can see how immature teenagers (and yes, I appreciate that some were not as young as others) don’t see a problem with shaming others as long as it’s in a “private” group chat, but in reality it’s a huge problem and pool management may not have known a better way to deal with it or they received a complaint from the members so they took swift and serious action.

          1. INTP*

            I disagree. Sexual harassment and all its nuances aren’t always communicated adequately to teenage girls even if they’re part of school training or a workplace policy. Not handling harassment in an ideal way is not nearly as egregious an offense as harassing in the first place. From a detached standpoint, yes, reporting the harassment to the school or employer is the best way to handle it. But when you’re a teenage girl and you just want it to stop so you can get back to your life as normal, and bullying him back makes him pick a more complacent target and fixes the problem for you, and you’ve seen your friends labeled as liars or sluts for claiming to be sexually harassed, and you have no idea whether a formal complaint would even fix the problem…I don’t think its fair to judge the harassment victim as harshly as her harasser for handling the situation in the way that worked best for her because it wasn’t what worked best for her harasser.

            Even the girls that didn’t get harassed, I can’t blame. When I was a teen girl it was predominantly these “weird” boys that were nearly universally rejected who harassed me after I tried to be nice to them. If these girls saw their friends getting harassed after attempting to be friendly, I don’t think they were obligated to be friendly and risk becoming a target as well. Again, I’m not saying it was the IDEAL way to handle the situation. But not handling your victimhood or potential victimhood in an ideal manner is not nearly as bad as victimizing someone.

          2. Observer*

            You don’t get to defend yourself at all costs.

            You mean they have to protect little creeps fee-fees?

            Blaming girls or women for for excluding a creep is just appalling. It doesn’t matter what the management did or didn’t do about the issue – there is NO WAY it is even close to reasonable to expect these young people to include him if he was doing what he was accused of doing.

            And, all things considered, there are a lot of good reasons why people don’t report harassment. In a set up like this, there is a very good chance that these kids did NOT have the kind of training and support that would make reporting a realistic option.

            1. Devil Fish*

              Thank you for saying this.

              Too often women are punished for exploiting the only recourse typically available to us: avoiding men who have shown themselves to be potential predators, and warning other women away from them. The men we warn others away from usually say this is “unfair” and part of some secret female campaign against them, and sometimes they retaliate, which is then our fault for not being “nice” (read: willing potential victims). This has to stop.

              1. Cercis*

                So here’s a more extreme example from my own life. In college there was a man in the dorms who was just “off”. He was annoying and would be inappropriate, but not in any way that words could express – often it was tone and body language that were off but his words were actually fine. So reporting him would have the admin looking at the women as if they were crazy and just trying to stir up problems.

                One night I was in the lounge watching TV. I was waiting for a friend, but was by myself. I saw him come in and pretended to be asleep because I just didn’t want to deal with him. He approached me and talked to me and I didn’t “wake up”. He touched my shoulder, so I kind of shifted over (indicating that I was, you know, alive and fine, just asleep). He then proceeded to pull up my shirt and attempt to grope me. I “woke up” right quick then. But I still didn’t report him because, you know, it was my fault for having pretended to be asleep and ignoring him. Did anyone ever say that to me? Not in those words, but that was the message that had been handed down to us. I did go to my friend’s room and tell her what happened and she agreed that it wasn’t something that we could report, although we told all of our friends and we all actively excluded him from that point on (and my friend apologized to me for not being there – because you know, it’s OUR fault when a man assaults us).

                I seriously hope he never escalated beyond that, but I have my doubts. I suspect he was exactly the kind of creep who would rape a woman because she was passed out and insist that it wasn’t rape.

      7. INTP*

        I agree that it’s not acceptable to exclude someone just for being weird. However, this kid was also apparently a known harasser of girls. Based on my experience as a teenager that tried to be friendly to everyone, being friendly to the “weird” kids that tended to stalk or harass girls just got you branded as a target – I don’t know if they had no social skills and mistook friendliness for interest, or if it was more nefarious and they thought girls that weren’t mean would be more likely to tolerate harassment. But I don’t think it’s wrong for girls to proactively exclude or avoid boys with a history of harassing their friends. The girls have a right to protect themselves.

        1. Marisol*

          So well said. I think it boils down to this point you make: “not handling harassment in an ideal way is not nearly as egregious an offense as harassing in the first place.”

    2. What's in a name*

      Add in the fact that the first one to say something tends to get all the belief and the others are left defending themselves and no one really wants the details they just want it to all go away and you fire everyone. And then you stand behind we don’t talk about personnel issues.

      1. Summertime Sadness*

        Yes, totally, if he’s the first one to say something it’s probably going to look like anything people say afterwards is simply in their defense.

        Also – when I was a teenage girl I’m sure I wouldn’t have felt comfortable taking a complaint about harassment to the manager and would’ve felt like dealing with it socially was the only thing I could do (by avoiding him, etc). I know plenty of others felt/feel the same way. Of course it’s the Right Thing To Do… but it’s hard, and you have to feel like you have hard evidence that something truly over the line happened, and usually people are pretty good at “testing the waters” with things that are hard to get in trouble for but definitely will make someone uncomfortable. And you don’t know how the manager is going to respond. This wasn’t at a job, but in class when I was around 8th grade like these lifeguards were, I had a friend talk to the teacher about a boy in the class who had harassed her (and maybe worse, I don’t think I have the full picture but I do get the sense it was bad) and the teacher basically gave her an “I’m sorry you feel that way” response. And certainly I felt uncomfortable in my youth telling any adult (parents, authority figures) about things that made me uncomfortable, because I didn’t want them to make a big deal out of it, I just wanted the problem to quietly go away.

        1. MsMorlowe*

          To add to your comment, it’s possible the girls involved didn’t realise that firing him could even be on the table, since it’s not an option in schools (I…can’t think of a school that would expel a 15-18 year old boy for this kind of sexual harassment. Which is depressing, and I would love if someone could contradict me on this. Punish him in other ways, sure, up to suspension maybe, but not expel someone).

          1. Annabelle*

            There was a kid expelled from my high school for this sort of stalking/harassment behavior. It was actually pretty surprising, because lots of other guys got away with it at the time.

            1. MsMorlowe*

              Wow! On the one hand, it’s great to hear that the school took the case seriously and punished him appropriately, but on the other… If he wasn’t the only one doing such things, it does make you wonder what was so different about his case than other similar instances (influential parents??…)

              (I seem to be very cynical today!)

    3. Blue Anne*

      It sounds like this was a good lesson for the teens about the difference between friends made outside of work and colleagues. You may be friends with your colleagues, but professional norms still apply, including not excluding anyone because they’re a bit weird. If your daughter or any of the others was feeling harassed, I would hope their first stop would be management.

      1. Observer*

        True. But, we don’t know whether they went to management, and no one is talking. Also, not going to management over harassment while excluding the harasser from social things should not be a firing offense for a first time.

      2. Elfie*

        Wow, that’s really unfair. I was sexually harassed as a teenager, again, like INTP and others, because I tried to be nice to everyone (in my case, I was a bit of a social outcast, didn’t have a lot of social skills, so I eagerly accepted the friendship of anyone who would give it to me – I now know that to have been very naive). This guy made me feel so uncomfortable, and I never told anyone about it, because I had so little self-esteem, that I didn’t think they’d believe me (like, why would X harass YOU? You’re not pretty, etc). Now that I’m typing it out as my 40-year-old self, it makes me want to weep for my 14-year-old self. I had such low self esteem that I didn’t even think I deserved to be sexually harassed.

        The point being, I was a smart cookie (just book smarts, not street smarts), and even I didn’t bring it up because reasons. And this was 26 years ago, when I think it was probably easier to be a teenage girl than it is today. We need to learn these lessons, and let’s be honest, how many of them learned not just what to do, but how to do it, when we were teenagers?

    4. MsMorlowe*

      This is very similar to what I had thought, but a word of caution/advice: it still seems like this was a group chat set up for work, and there was nothing stopping the lifeguards involved from setting up one group chat for scheduling, etc, that included this boy and was strictly for work, and another group chat that was for friends and personal talk, and that excluded him. Even if it was hosted on a non-work app, if it was set up *for work* then no, it’s not private.

    5. Michelle*

      Hi NewReader! I actually referred to your comments on the linked articles in my comments here. Do you know if the boy who reported this was also fired? Or was he allowed to keep his job? I do think the management overreacted firing all these lifeguards if the reason was truly this one guy who was upset his unwelcome/unwanted advances were spurned.

    6. la bella vita*

      I really, really hope that that female lifeguards didn’t get fired for telling a male coworker who was creeping them out to leave them alone. Also, this guy was in college, felt rejected, and thought he should tell his mom so they could go talk to his boss together??

      1. Bex*

        There is absolutely nothing that says he’s in college, so I’m not sure where you’re getting that from? He could be in college, but he could also be 15, since according to the article “Most of the people who work at the centers are ages 15 to 20”

        1. Toph*

          The mom-of-one-of-the-employees who commented (assuming she’s who she says she is) said they were college students.

      2. Devil Fish*

        “I really, really hope that the female lifeguards didn’t get fired for telling a male coworker who was creeping them out to leave them alone.”

        Nooo. The female lifeguards got fired for questionable things they had posted to the group chat, going as far as a year back (?!), which was brought to management’s attention by their harasser (?!!) and his mother (?!!!), after the harasser realized he could use this to retaliate against them for rejecting him. Completely different!

    7. animaniactoo*

      Thanks for the info. At the very least, it does sound like they failed to properly investigate this and now I suspect that the stuff that was shown was taken out of context, and/or is an occasional rare remark of someone being out of line over a long period of conversation that was completely within boundaries of good taste/sense.

    8. Sunflower*

      If your daughter and other guards were receiving unwelcome/harassing messages from the boy, is there a reason they didn’t go to the management?

      1. MsMorlowe*

        I would think because they didn’t think management would take it seriously. Based on management’s later response, I would think they would have been correct.

        1. The IT Manager*

          Given their response to the complaint they did get, there’s no reason to think that they would have not responded to complaints of sexual harassment especially if it had come from multiple women.

          1. MsMorlowe*

            I hadn’t thought of it like that. I was thinking that if the boy who had been inappropriate kept his job, and the others were punished, then they wouldn’t have taken complaints against him seriously–but you’re right, that’s false logic.

          2. Observer*

            There is – look, for instance, at Susie Cruzie’s post. Excluding a creep is as bad as being a creep according to her. And, the creep has proof – the girls probably did not have what management would have construed as proof (again, assuming that this is actually what happened.)

      2. INTP*

        When I was a teenage girl, I honestly didn’t realize that constant messaging was considered sexual harassment, I thought sexual harassment was physical assault and grabbing or threats thereof, and would have assumed that complaining about a bunch of messages would get me told “He just has a crush, why haven’t you said no clearly enough?” I was stalked by a boy in seventh grade and didn’t report it until he had tried to kiss me, and my friend (SO THANKFUL that I had this friend who was gutsier than me) marched me to the office to file a report. And even then, a bunch of girls told me I shouldn’t have done that because he was socially awkward and “didn’t know what he was doing.”

      3. kb*

        This is just based on my past experiences at teen summer jobs (I have no insight into this particular incident), it may have been that the messages from the boy occupied middle ground on the scales of personal–> professional and unreciprocated crush–> severe harassment.
        At most workplaces dominated by adults, coworkers don’t hang out off the clock the same way teens and college students do. So because the boundaries between personal friendships and work stuff gets blurred for young people in jobs like this, it can be tricky to determine what your bosses need to hear about.
        It’s also possible the content of the messages wasn’t clear cut-and-dry harassment. A lot of women I know (and probably some men too) have had the experience where somebody’s actions or messages just make you deeply uncomfortable but when you try to explain it, it seems minor. So in those cases it would seem like an overreaction to tell management, but at the same time you can’t blame someone for not inviting that person over to hang out with them. But when you have a social workplace as it appears these lifeguards did, the etiquette gets tricky.

    9. Blurgle*

      So if this is true, they fired victims of sexual harassment because the harasser’s mother got involved. Nice.

      1. Stellaaaaa*

        It sounds like the messaging really might have been unacceptable too. Otherwise management would have told the dude to shove it. It sounds like it was a whole group of teens who had gotten used to interacting with each other in a certain way and management wasn’t cool with any of it.

      2. Marisol*

        That is my take on the situation as well, and I find it totally outrageous. I am also frankly disgusted at the comments in this thread that assign some blame to the girls/women for their reaction TO BEING HARASSED.

        1. Stellaaaaa*

          No one is blaming the girls for feeling victimized by legitimately scary behavior. We’re saying that we don’t believe that this mother, who has a vested interest in making her daughter seem like a good person and has enough weird “satellite statements” in her comment that it’s not out of line to wonder if she’s not leaning into an exaggerated narrative. I’d believe the daughter if she came forward with a firsthand account, but not a mother who’s insulting this guy for going with his mom to management while finding it within her rights to comment on her daughter’s behalf.

          1. Marisol*

            You and others are indeed assigning blame to the girls for being cliquish and sending “inappropriate” texts. It is those statements I am referring to.

            To my mind, it is totally understandable that teenage girls and very young women would not have skills for responding to sexual harassment. I’m in my forties, am pretty tough, and I struggle with it myself. There is nothing in our culture that encourages women to stand up to harassment, and innumerable instances in which women are actually expected NOT to fight back against it and actively punished for doing so. Expecting a teenage girl to respond like a seasoned professional to workplace harassment is ridiculous. Maybe their texts were wrong in that they were unprofessional, but they deserved correction, not the punishment of being fired. You say, “the guards wouldn’t have been fired if the messages hadn’t been fireable on their own.” Whereas I say when you are victimized in the workplace, you deserve some latitude for not having the optimum response.

            1. Stellaaaaa*

              Which is why I said I’d believe the girls, but not a mother’s retelling of her daughter’s version of the story after she and her friends (male and female) were fired from a job based on group texts that might not have even been about this outlier guy. We don’t know what the texts were about; I admit to falling into the trap of assuming they were about him. The mother conveniently didn’t mention the content of the messages. If the guy was hassling the girls, that sucks and they’re entitled to be believed. But if management was informed that they were texting in the “public” group chat about drinking, drugs, or inappropriate sexual content, they honestly deserved to be fired, even while we also express sympathy for having to deal with working with a horrible dude. Without knowing more, all I can put together is that the girls rejected this guy and he got his revenge by spilling some unflattering stuff that the group mistakenly assumed no one would ever spill. “But he was inappropriate toward me,” doesn’t negate your own bad actions.

              1. Marisol*

                Ok, I see that you are assuming that their comments were unrelated to the harassment, and I am assuming that they were made in response to the harassment. That is a big distinction. Still, I am doubtful that whatever they texted was so egregious as to warrant an automatic firing.

                1. Stellaaaaa*

                  I can think of a few things that have popped up in my own frame of reference. “OMG I got soooooo wasted before work today,” “can I buy some weed off of you?” and “LOL I have vodka in my water bottle today, “are super common among teens. It might also be something work related, like chatting about forgetting to lock up after shift, getting friends in for free, or lying about having a CPR or lifeguarding certification. I’m honestly curious: would you not fire employees who left a paper trail admitting to these sorts of things?

                2. Marisol*

                  Those are fireable offenses but the teenagers were fired for things they *said*, specifically raunchy jokes. If you get fired for drinking vodka or smoking weed on the job, the fireable offense is the act itself, with the text about it being proof of the act. I get the impression the firing was more about the tone and content of the communications themselves. According to management, the texts themselves were the fireable offenses. And given that, no, I can’t imagine a text being so bad it warranted automatic firing, unless it was a threat of violence.

                3. MsMorlowe*

                  @Marisol, this is to your second comment

                  Regarding the texts, if there are particularly sexually explicit jokes in a work chat group that has minor members… I can see how management would be concerned. Like you say, I’m not sure about firing anyone over it, but idk American laws and attitudes on this.

              2. Elsajeni*

                Right — it’s entirely possible that 1) the messages only came to management’s attention because a harasser brought them up to try to get his victims in trouble, but also 2) some of the messages sent were legitimately inappropriate and worthy of firing. I don’t see anything even in the mom’s comment that says the “inappropriate” messages were only related to calling this guy creepy or socially excluding him, which would fall under the “imperfect response to harassment” category. It sucks that the potential effect is “harasser gets what he wants,” and I agree that, assuming the mom’s comment is accurate, he should probably be fired as well, but… you can’t not fire someone who is, say, sharing photos of pool patrons and making fun of them (to use Alison’s example of an obviously inappropriate message) because you think the person who showed you the messages has a gross ulterior motive for trying to get them in trouble.

                1. Marisol*

                  I don’t think we can hold teenagers to the same high standards of conduct that we can hold adults to.

    10. LW*

      I am the one who submitted this, so I just wanted to say hi, we are in the same community, and it’s always nice to run into someone from our lovely community (it really is nice here!). Thanks for the details, that is really interesting and helpful.

      1. Anon in Maplewood*

        Another hello from Maplewood, great that there are several of us here!

        This story is tough, because without the full story available, which it may never be, all anyone can do is guess at hypothetical scenarios. An interesting academic exercise, but there are so many possible factors involved from many players in this situation that it’s close to impossible to really evaluate the situation realistically.

        Hoping for a break in the heat soon :)

    11. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Since I think some people misunderstood this, New Reader was sharing a comment that the mother of a guard had left on one of the original articles. New Reader is not the mother of the guard.

      1. Blurgle*

        For those wondering, the comment is about two-thirds down the page on the second article.

      2. Bex*

        Also, it does not appear that the mother/commenter actual saw the messages in question, nor does she actually know what happened. The letter is full of “my child said” and “the speculation is” so it doesn’t even add much actual context.

    12. Stellaaaaa*

      While it sounds like this one male employee also behaved badly, it does sound like the texts were inappropriate. It’s an important lesson that you can’t blame the tattlers when you’re caught doing something you probably shouldn’t have been doing to begin with. Even factoring in the outside circumstances, the guards wouldn’t have been fired if the messages hadn’t been fireable on their own.

      1. N.J.*

        So how I see a scenario like that playing out is this guy sexually harassing multiple female colleagues and them being teenagers, they handled it by writing things in the group text that made fun of him, or called him names or made crude jokes about him etc. Yeah, not great, but if the guy sexually harassed his female coworkers, he should have been summarily fired, full stop. The other kids, depending on what they said should have been given the biggest come to Jesus talk that ever existed along the lines of sexual harassment is illegal, report it to management and we will take care of it, and that combating sexual harassment by harrasung the harasser as well (if that’s what happened) is inappropriate and grounds for dismissal in the future, not related to this particular instance. It’s kind of victim blaming to say they had the firing coming to them if he in fact harassed them first. I want to be clear that I don’t think your saying that, I think you are saying there is a lesson in personal responsibility and professionalism in here, but I could easily see the girls in this case taking the lesson away that they can’t do anything to combat harassment and don’t have a right to turn down romantic or sexual advances because of this type of consequence. The employers have a slightly higher duty in this type of situation here to create appropriate messaging around why the kids were fired, otherwise they contribute to some really, really messed up ideas about what young women are supposed to “put up with” to keep the peace or avoid negative consequences themselves.

      2. hbc*

        That’s where I land too. The “Hey, he went back a year to find things they shouldn’t have said!” reaction doesn’t really make me believe the mother has the best view of the situation*. If they said terrible things in this message group a year ago and are continuing to do it, they don’t get a free pass on it just because his motivation for sharing wasn’t pure. It doesn’t sound like he screencapped things like “Fergus is so awful, we’ll never include him in this group.” That’s just not the kind of thing that gets you summarily fired during the peak season for your company. I’m guessing they legitimately crossed the line but didn’t know it and/or expect to be ratted out.

        *Also, what’s up with the “He messaged my daughter even though he knew she had a boyfriend” crap? He may very well be a creeper, but if messaging someone of the opposite sex who has a partner makes a creep, I’ve got a lot of apologies to give and demand.

        1. MsMorlowe*

          I am assuming that it was a relevant comment: as in, “he messaged my daughter [to ask her out or to otherwise indicate his interest in her romantically/sexually] even though he knew she was going out with someone”.

        2. Stellaaaaa*

          Yeah, I don’t ever disbelieve reports of men creeping on women, but “the guy had the nerve to ask my daughter out” isn’t inherently creepy. That’s called normal dating. The whole thing sounds super cliquey, with the mom drawing a line between the good, college-track kids and this creepy loser who has no business talking to her daughter, who’s so cool that she already has a boyfriend. Then you look at the numbers and see that management might have just fired that one clique.

          Like it’s entirely possible that the girls at the pool didn’t like this guy’s vibe, or they excluded him from the friend group (perhaps, say, uninviting him from trivia night) but it looks to me like they (or this one girl, via her mom) are leaning into a narrative of him creeping on them to distract from the fact that they didn’t behave well either.

    13. Renamis*

      I would also like to point out food for thought. The kid might have seriously been creeping on girls, in which case management was in the wrong for firing without finding the situation.

      But! It could also be the exact opposite situation, where this boy was being seriously bullied by more than a couple employees here. I remember high-school, and I remember watching perfectly nice (but odd) kids being labled “creepy” because they had the “guts” to say hi to someone. Heaven forbid if they noticed a girl dyed her hair or had it cut, that’s stalker territory! Innocent things that would be considered polite by a “normal” person becomes “stalker” behavior. My school was actually GREAT about bullying, and even we had that issue pop up.

      Just pointing out that a Mom bringing up something her daughter was a part of isn’t likely to shed unbiased light, even if the girl wasn’t fired for it.

      1. HMM*

        Yup, this is where I fall.

        100% full stop, if a boy is harassing you, you can totally exclude him. And he should be fired. (assuming someone knows about it enough to fire him).

        But to me we need more details to know for sure. I’ve seen boys who are maybe a little socially awkward try and ask out a girl once and get shamed/bullied by multiple people for it. Which is what I was considering when I said the stuff about excluding people upthread. With the way the mom’s comment was presented, I’d say it’s actually something closer to that than a creeper dood being a creepy creeper.

  9. The OG Anonsie*

    I don’t know if I missed something, but where is the speculation about it being photos of pool guests coming from? The information is pretty sparse but it sounds like it was some work-inappropriate type of humor, but that it was specifically not related to their workplace.

    I agree with a lot of folks here that the number of people fired makes me pretty suspicious that management went overboard. Without knowing the specifics I’m not sure if someone or another did need to be fired and the rest could have been reprimanded or if reprimands all around would have made more sense or what, but I find it unlikely that firing the lot at once was the best move.

    1. Michelle*

      I was wondering that as well. There was no mention of pool guests in the linked articles.

      1. The OG Anonsie*

        Yeah I just couldn’t tell where that speculation came from, but now they’ve clarified that it’s something that came up in the original discussion from the news articles as a possibility.

        I was trying to figure out if there was some detail I didn’t catch or in a different article or something that lead people there, or if that was just the first guess people had for what would be a fireable offense. It sounds like it’s the latter.

    2. LW*

      Yes, I’m the OP and I included it as a reference to the discussion happening about it-because people in the comments of those articles were speculating. I should have been more clear that no one actually knows.

    3. Janonymous*

      One of the articles has this line:

      “‘People would post pictures or videos they thought were funny. I don’t know if someone had a different sense of humor,’ she said.”

      My mind immediately went to photos of patrons with nasty comments, but I suppose it could just be memes or whatever.

      1. Anne (with an "e")*

        If we ever do find out what the young people were posting, I’ll bet it will turn out to be extremely inappropriate for a work related chat. I’m also willing to bet that this goes well beyond saying mean things about a guy who supposedly harassed the young ladies. As was noted earlier, I think it speaks volumes that we actually do not have any screen shots of what they were sharing.

      2. The OG Anonsie*

        I would assume memes, just because that’s the more common thing.

        I’m guessing for some folks the way the speculation goes is “what fits this description and would be a fireable offense,” which photos of guests absolutely would be.

  10. Purplesaurus*

    I can’t tell for sure if using the app was employer-driven, but it seems like it wasn’t and probably contributed to whatever the problem is. If management were able to view these conversations from the start, then they could have shut it down before it got out of hand (assuming there was something inappropriate in the conversations). Additionally, if employees know management can see their communications then they’re usually less likely to say/send inappropriate things.

    1. Michelle*

      According to the linked articles, it was an Apple app (Group Me), not an employer-driven app. One of the parents of a lifeguard (whose was not fired) said a male employee was using the app to creep/say inappropriate things to female lifeguards and when they did not respond like he wanted, he spoke with a parent and they went to the management. Of course, that is only the parent’s version, so we don’t know for sure.

      As long as the chat wasn’t targeting a specific person (cyberbullying) or had pics of pool patrons, a written warning would have been sufficient. However, if the matter was really a spurned male using messages from as far back as a year to get coworkers fired because they didn’t respond to his advances as he wanted, then he should have been fired and the other lifeguards should not have been fired.

      Until what was really in the messages that prompted the firings is made public knowledge, if they ever are, it’s hard to say if the management made the right call.

      1. Stellaaaaa*

        The chat had about 50 people in it and only 6 or 7 were fired. I’d take the mother’s comments (which amount to “My daughter is wonderful and has a boyfriend and is on track to go to college – why would she talk to this weirdo dude?”) with a grain of salt, but without discounting any legitimate accusations of inappropriate behavior from the one male employee. On the other hand, management seemed to have an easy time looking through the 50 people in the chat and identifying the 7 who were causing trouble, which changes the framework of this story a bit.

  11. Rick Tq*

    Might have been a timing issue also. Lifeguards in the chair need to keep their eyes on the pool and swimmers, not on their phones.

    1. Borgette*

      There’s nothing here to suggest that lifeguards are looking at their phones while on duty. The articles specify that the app was used outside of work hours. If it was a problem with lifeguards not watching the pool, there would be no need to mention the content – that would be a perfectly understandable performance issue!

  12. Amber Rose*

    A coworker of mine badmouthed both my department and my boss on FB over an incident, and somehow forgot that he had friended the department head. She was terribly offended, and so was my boss when he saw it, and (for more reasons than just that) the coworker was let go.

    My boss’s take on the matter was that if the guy was THAT unhappy with his job, then he should kindly take himself to a job where he was not unhappy, instead of bringing down everyone else with his negativity.

    I think in the case of teenagers, maybe being fired is what some of them needed to realize that the workplace isn’t school. You can badmouth the teacher and get away with a slap on the wrist, but the stakes are higher in a professional setting. If the boss decided the culture this group had set up was too toxic to continue, he may have decided this was the best way to reset.

    Basically what I’m saying is, it’s not just about what was said. There are a lot of factors here. And at some point, you have to stop letting teens get a pass for awful behavior just because they’re teens. They aren’t stupid, or empty slates.

  13. LCL*

    They are teenagers. Teenagers in groups sometimes engage in raunchy talk and innuendos. I believe, given the little that we know, that they should have been warned one on one about what is over the top and why it isn’t allowed. Going straight to firing is too much. The one employee that was quoted said she wasn’t even told what crossed the line! That is outrageous. How many of us reading this would have been able to keep our teenage jobs if management was made aware of the conversations we had?

    1. Czhorat*

      It depends. Without knowing it’s impossible to say what the appropriate repercussion should be.

      This is obviously at a higher level of consequence, but recently some High School graduates had their acceptance to Harvard revoked over racist and sexist messages in a group chat. Some things simply don’t get forgiven.

  14. animaniactoo*

    I’m wondering if there was a safety/customer respect in general issue involved. That’s the only situation in which I can see letting go a bunch of people and trying NOT to be specific about what the issue was. Because you don’t want people trying to dig deeper and find out exactly how bad the issue was, how long it was going on, and feel that their safety was compromised. That can end up in a witch-hunt and a lack of confidence going forward even though steps were just taken. Because it happened at all.

    I would probably guess it’s some combination of both, and if so – I don’t think that’s a reprimand issue. Primarily because it is a job that involves being alert to dangers and being able to handle them, and it takes a certain amount of maturity and responsibility to train for it and then perform it. If you’re demonstrating you don’t have that pretty blatantly, then you need to be removed before it’s a problem somebody can’t walk back from while you learn it.

    1. animaniactoo*

      On the other hand – given that they’re not even telling the people who were fired what specific comments or incidents were problematic, I’m going to have to revise my opinion and go with “Overreacting bad management”.

  15. Elsie Tyler*

    Does it make a difference that they are employed by the city? I’m a manager in the private sector, and I suspect that some of the things I consider ‘stern talking-to/warning’ level offenses in this position are things I might consider firing offenses if I was managing city employees in taxpayer-funded positions where there is a higher level of scrutiny.

    1. Brett*

      The actually makes it complicated in the opposite direction.
      As city employees, they might actually have protections private employees do not (certain free speech protections as well as Loudermill protections). But they are seasonal temporary employees, so they are not treated the same as other public employees in Missouri in this case.

  16. WellRed*

    It says one of them is 21 and she called herself “mature.” She also refused to sign HR’s paperwork (good) without discussing it with her parents (not so mature).

    1. Stellaaaaa*

      I’m in my 30s and I have my mom read over any contract before I sign it. My mom has a legal background. There is nothing immature about thinking “I’m going to put this paperwork in front of more experienced eyes before I sign it.”

      1. Marisol*

        I would say that is a hallmark of maturity actually–knowing your limitations and seeking a qualified opinion.

      2. blackcat*

        As a 29 year old child of two lawyers, I heartily agree. I ask my parents to look over all sorts of stuff. My dad does insurance litigation, and you better believe he has looked over every insurance policy I have ever signed. I’m pretty competent (friends ask me to look over stuff since I’ve picked up a lot from my parents!), but if I have a legitimate expert handy, I’m gonna go ask him.

        (My mom does bankruptcy law. Fortunately, there has never been an occasion where I needed her particular expertise!)

        1. Stellaaaaa*

          And you don’t even need to be the child of lawyers to get this kind of assistance! Asking your parents, who have signed many pieces of paper in their lifetimes, for help is better than signing paperwork full of HR jargon if you don’t understand it.

      3. MJ (Aotearoa/New Zealand)*

        My husband always gets me to read over his employment agreements before he signs them. I’m not a lawyer, but I am in HR. It just makes sense!

  17. Allison*

    I don’t know enough to know if the management here was out of line or not, so I can’t make a judgment call one way or another here. I do know that they *need* lifeguards, and it’s probably tough to hire new ones mid-season, so they probably would have thought long and hard about their decision.

    The thing is, lifeguards are responsible for people’s lives! They may not actually ever need to rescue anyone, but they’re expected to do so if the situation arises. And most of the day, as they’re keeping an eye on things, they’re watching people in their bathing suits. Men, women, children, skinny people, fat people, old people, young people, you get the idea. Because of this, it is essential that lifeguards be responsible and mature people. Teens are young, of course, but if the management has any reason not to trust their staff to be those things at work, they are right to be concerned that the kids aren’t cut out for the job. And if the actual social media activity was leaked to the community, either through screenshots or good ol’ gossip, people may not feel safe going the pool.

    So I don’t know if a firing or reprimand was more appropriate, but I can see why management thought this was a major concern.

    1. Roscoe*

      I mean being a good lifeguard and being good person aren’t the same thing. Now its great to say you only want good people as lifeguards. Just just like with any other profession, your personal attitudes doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with your abilities in your profession. I know some teachers who are great at their job, yet not great people.

  18. CAA*

    The quality of the journalism in these linked articles is not great. For example: GroupMe is one word. It is a Skype app, so ultimately owned by Microsoft. It’s not an Apple app, though it does run on iOS as well as other operating systems. All of that is trivially easy to fact check and the reporters didn’t do it, so what else are they getting wrong?

    Reading the comments on the articles, there was apparently one young man who was behaving towards the young women in a way that several of them thought was inappropriate and the chat arose from that.

    I am conjecturing here, but I know enough teens in real life to figure out what’s likely to happen in a youth work situation in which there was quite possibly inadequate training on preventing sexual harassment. The young women started talking amongst themselves in the group chat, and found out that several of them had been the target of the unwelcome advances, and this led to making fun of the social skills and physical attributes of the young man making him a pariah among his coworkers. His parents, who don’t have any context as to why this happened reported the cyber-bullying to the boss, who also doesn’t have any context for it, and decided to fire everyone who had posted in the chat and counsel the passive observers who didn’t report it. The observers quit in solidarity with their friends before or during the counseling.

    I don’t think this is too big a stretch from the information given. And overall, nobody comes out looking very good in this scenario.

    1. fposte*

      Yup, that’s what it’s sounding like to me too. It’s tough enough to deal with that kind of poor behavior when you do have some experience and training, so I’m not surprised that their response was bullying, but it causes its own problems.

    2. JAM*

      The harassment angle keeps coming up and I definitely think the municipality’s managers did some wrongs here. They appear to have either not offered sexual harassment training or just made it a place where people didn’t feel safe to report sexual harassment.

    3. Brett*

      The St Louis Post-Dispatch, unfortunately, has been a poster child for the decline of major newpapers.
      Not long ago, they received the dubious distinction of having the largest number of embedded ads, popups, and trackers of any major newspaper in the country. At the same time, they have laid off over 80% of their staff since 2010.

  19. Hannah*

    I think in some situations of employment like this, where you are employing a group of exclusively young people in their summer jobs, you may need to, like it or not, take on the task of teaching them about appropriate workplace behavior.

    However, I worked for many summers at a summer camp, where the average age of a staff member was less than 19 (as in 19 was usually the oldest person on staff). So, we were basically a bunch of children in charge of caring for a bunch of children. Inevitably, there were times when our behavior wasn’t professional. There were a few times when that behavior resulted in a termination, but more often, because of the “second mom” relationship we had with our boss, a stern reprimand was enough to put a stop to the behavior and teach us what was and wasn’t OK. I think that while an employer isn’t obligated to be the employees’ mommy, young people are still learning and it might be worthwhile to reprimand in cases where you might immediately fire someone older in a more professional environment.

    We can’t really say with any certainty whether or not firing was an overreaction here, though, because we don’t know what was in the messages. As others have noted, messages containing pictures of patrons, or making bigoted comments about each other or patrons, probably would fall into the category of “fire immediately” because that kind of content, private or not, could hurt the image of the business.

    1. Janonymous*

      Reading through all of these comments and the ones on the articles, all I can say is that I’m incredibly happy that there was no such thing as group chat or Facebook when I was a camp counselor or any of my other youthful jobs when I was a teen. Yikes.

      1. Hannah*

        Agree! I admit to being part of some very immature teasing and just general bad behavior. I am certainly not proud of a few things that occurred during my time as a summer camp counselor.

        One in particular hits home a bit with this situation–there was one girl who was just really unhelpful and hard to work with, and also bad with the kids and REALLY socially inept. The rest of the group definitely ganged up on her sometimes, and I can imagine that we’d have torn her to shreds in some kind of group text or social media environment. That’s really unacceptable behavior no matter what kind of person is the target, but it seems that maybe the person who brought this all to light also had some problems (as did this girl) that made a bit of a toxic environment. I now know as an adult that the thing to do is approach your boss and explain the problems as diplomatically as possible, not delight in being mean to the problematic person, but teens are still learning and it is expected that sometimes they’ll do the wrong thing.

  20. INTP*

    I think the problem with reprimanding rather than firing, especially in a culture like this where people are close friends that communicate frequently outside the visibility of the management, is that the person who complained might be easily identified by the others and then be bullied and ostracized even worse (often in ways that can’t really be presented to management with clear proof). After that, even if they are told “Come back to me if it doesn’t stop,” they might not then report the increased bullying and harassment because they fear it will get even worse – management failed to stop it once, who is to say the next complaint will be successful? And as a result it winds up being the person who feels uncomfortable with the sex jokes or who is being bullied that is punished and not anyone else.

    I’m not sure if that’s applicable to this case, I’m just weighing in on the line between reprimanding and firing. I think sometimes in management, you can’t be fair to everyone, and even if the texts themselves didn’t warrant immediate firing, you can wind up with a choice between protecting the perpetrators from excessive consequences or protecting the victims from further harassment.

  21. Czhorat*

    As I said above, we don’t know: there are SO many ways this could have gone.

    See this story, about Harvard rescinding acceptances of ten students over racist and sexist memes shared on Facebook: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2017/06/05/harvard-withdraws-10-acceptances-for-offensive-memes-in-private-chat/?utm_term=.5c95f11b0d34

    Was there something like this at play? We don’t know. We can’t know. What we DO know is that something these kids said crossed a line for someone. The lesson should be to act in such a way that we can stand up by what we say; that doesn’t mean that it isn’t OK to engage in adult-oriented conversation, but it DOES mean that if we’re going to share something harmful we should first think of the consequences. Too many kids tehse days (and a distressing number of adults) mistake being “edgy” for being funny and take pride in saying things which are legitimately harmful.

    Without knowing that something like that wasn’t in play, I can’t say anything negative about the firings.

    1. paul*

      The problem is nearly everything crosses a line for someone. Look at the Lynn Gobbel case out of Alabama; she was fired for a bumper sticker supporting Kerry during that race. Just a plain “John Kerry” bumper sticker got her terminated.

      That doesn’t mean we should be free to be jerks, but finding that line between yes this is OK to say and no this might upset work can be harder than it should be.

      1. N.J.*

        We can at least teach children and young adults the big no-nos though and to consider anything they communicate before doing so. Yeah, a political bumper sticker is bull crap to get fired over if it just has a candidate’s name on it. But we can also teach kids that anything they say, write, post or communicate is an official reflection of their viewpoints and how people will see and interpret them. So knowing that even “innocuous” stuff can put you in the position to jeopardize your job, depending on your position, the field you are in etc. is a good thing for kids to know, if a bit depressing.

      2. Czhorat*

        Yes, and that’s an issue with “at will” employment. You can fire anyone for nearly any reason aside from gender, race, national origin, gender preference, or as retaliation for certain complaints. Almost any other firing is legal.

        Everything DOES, I suppose, cross a line for someone, but can we agree that Holocaust jokes belong in a different category than a bumper sticker for the wrong candidate? I have NO issue in kids learning that those are not joking matters.

    2. Detective Amy Santiago*

      This is the situation I thought of too.

      If it was that kind of thing, or pictures of pool patrons as speculated above, then firing the was absolutely the right call.

  22. DaniCalifornia*

    I am glad I was a lifeguard before social media, fb, etc. Only a couple of us even texted. I was there for three summers and 2 of them we had major firings. Highschoolers aren’t always the brightest when lumped together. Thankfully I did not participate in the events that got people fired. But after hours we did some pretty dumb stuff that I’m glad no one was able to record!

    1. Susan*

      “Highschoolers aren’t always the brightest when lumped together.”

      I currently work in the Recreation field and we over see several pool locations. 99.8% of our staff are good kids who do “good” work. Most of them have to be taught, as things we “professionals” see as common sense are not things people are born knowing. But when you get them in a group….all rational thought goes out the window. Peer pressure, brain farts – whatever the excuse, it’s bound to happen to the best of them!

  23. Lady Phoenix*

    Using some of the info provided, I gathered the following: Boy was being the creep and harassing all the girls. So all the girls began exlcuding him from “fun” chats and soon the guys did too. Maybe one of the girls brought up in the chat that boy was creeping on her and the girls were bringing up their own stories.

    Guy gets mad at all the rejection, cherry picks the comments, shows them to his mom, and then they both show it to the boss.

  24. Noah*

    I would just point out that a sexualized workplace is extra problematic when some of the employees are adults and some are children, which is the case in this lifeguard situation. That’s not a complete answer without knowing more information, but it’s a factor.

    1. MsMorlowe*

      I think you need to include the nuance of “young adult” and “teen” here rather than “adult” and “child”. While I agree that US laws seem (to my un-American eyes) fairly strict on the division, and so it might be legally dodgy (I saw someone mention above about child pornography laws about teenagaers in swimsuits at a pool???), it’s not unethical or even unusual to have a friend group of mixed ages as a teenager (as a teen, I had close friends 3-5 years older and younger than I).

  25. curmudgeon*

    Surprised by a lot of the comments here… I thought this was a place for the employees to swap shifts and make other plans so perhaps the person(s) felt they had to be on it in order to find coverage or take extra shifts.
    Maybe I watch to much SVU but I wondered if they were comments sexualizing underage girls or boys by each other or by those over 18 – it says they are mixed ages, mostly college students (17-22 generally) and what you can say/do one age to another is iffy. Maybe they were discussing/planning parties with alcohol and/or drugs and/or sex.
    There was probably a fair amount of cyberbullying going on even if it “didn’t mention anyone specific” and kids aren’t stupid, they know when they are the target. Even comments about “don’t know how XX can live with themselves” and “i’d kill myself if YYY happened to me” can be damaging.
    Maybe they forgot that it was not a private protected chat and talked about stealing or violence or something that an employer felt a responsibility to respond.
    What if you found stuff like that on your office bulletin board (real or virtual). Is it okay?
    Just kids being kids? Is that any better than “boys will be boys” after a rape accusation?

  26. Joe X*

    Removed. I’m enforcing the commenting rules extra hard on this one as there’s a known teenager reading. Thanks.

  27. Brett*

    One aspect I find interesting about this is the second group of lifeguards who quit.

    This group was older in age and served as the day to day managers. None of them were apparently accused of wrongdoing, but rather quit in solidarity with the ones who were fired.

    Regardless of what was in the chats, this seems like a distinct sign that this was mishandled by the city.

    1. Shadow*

      Eh, depends. Is it okay to say nothing if you know a co worker lifeguard is high at work?

      1. Roscoe*

        No, its not ok. But that seems to be a big leap you are making. Because if they are willing to all quit in solidarity, I’m guessing it wasn’t something serious enough to put lives in jeopardy

        1. Shadow*

          I know some teens have good judgement about a lot of things. But even the level headed ones can easily mis judge very serious issues. It’s just hard to speculate based on a teens observation or judgement

    2. Anne (with an "e")*

      I’m not certain that I agree with this assessment.

      The second group was brought in for a talking to. I feel like they were going to be reprimanded and warned about their behavior. Possibly they were going to be counseled. (I am just speculating, obviously.) However, it sounds like this is exactly what upper management needed to do. I get the impression that the second group overreacted. Of course, it’s an at will state, so if they want to quit, that’s their prerogative. Just as it’s the prerogative of upper management to fire the first group.

      1. Brett*

        The city has made it clear in local media that the second group who resigned did nothing wrong. They only resigned in protest to what the city had done. This group quitting is what led to having to close the pools.

  28. Shadow*

    It’s hard to say. I can see issues that could be hugely problematic that teens think isn’t that big a deal- like doing any drugs (probably weed) or alcohol before a shift or in the parking lot, drinking underage on property, talking about co workers having sex. All normal teen stuff but fireable too with no warning.

  29. kindnessisitsownreward*

    I work in HR for a public entity. I read a lot of these comments, including the New Reader who says her child worked at the pool. I recently had to deal with a similar issue (not this one) involving summer help and social media use.

    First of all, every public entity I know of has a very formal process for investigating these kinds of issues. We have to take witness statements, cross reference information, do follow up interviews, and cite policies that were violated before any disciplinary action can be taken. And even then, must public entities have a grievance process where an employee can challenge a disciplinary decision and request another look.

    HR can’t talk about what they found because of privacy issues, which makes it a ripe and fertile ground for many to engage in speculation without knowing facts. the only voice you are hearing from are the ones who got fired and they aren’t exactly neutral.

    If everything New Reader said is exactly what happened, those young people would probably also have been dismissed from where I work. We do not allow employees to use social media while they are on the job. We also don’t allow employees to tease, harass, or otherwise interact with other employees or members of the public in a way that is unprofessional You don’t have to be best buddies or eat lunch together, but we expect all employees to work as a team and conduct themselves as such in order to carry out their responsibilities to the community when they are on the clock.

    It is no different as when the newest “social media” was the telephone–in those days, employees weren’t allowed to get on the phone every 5 minutes and check in with people while they were working. Same with surfing the interne, texting people, snapchatting, instagram, or facebook.

    Yes, it might mean that an employee doesn’t have much to do. Maybe they will get bored. I understand. Learning to deal with boredom is a very important skill to develop—a lot of life situations will involve periods of boredom. We don’t let our police officers use social media this way, we don’t let our trash collectors use social media like that, why should we let lifeguards? I guarantee you that if anyone drowned, the first thing everyone would want to know is if the lifeguards were paying attention or were they on social media or texting. and if it was found out that they were texting, it wouldn’t matter one bit if it was “just for a minute” or “just to chitchat” there would be a lawsuit filed in a nanosecond.

    It may very well be that this public entity doesn’t follow these same guidelines–I don’t know anything personally about them. But in my experience, the hardest place to get fired from is a public sector job, because of the processes and policies built into the system. While some may complain about them because it’s hard to get rid of bad employees–remember that it also makes it hard to get rid of good employees, which is the intent of these processes.

    1. Mananana*

      (Just a note for clarification: New Reader isn’t the mom in question, she just quoted from one of the articles.)

    2. Brett*

      Missouri actually has an exception for part-time seasonal staff where they have no rights to a formal process (they are not considered merit employees). Because of this, most cities in the St Louis region (including Maplewood) have adopted policy that formal procedures for merit employees are not available for part-time seasonal staff. Main reason for this is that it avoids any of the bureaucracy that can result when seasonal staff are laid off at end of season. Instead, they are all just terminated.

  30. kindnessisitsownreward*

    I work in HR for a public entity. I read a lot of these comments, including the New Reader who says her child worked at the pool. I recently had to deal with a similar issue (not this one) involving summer help and social media use.

    First of all, every public entity I know of has a very formal process for investigating these kinds of issues. We have to take witness statements, cross reference information, do follow up interviews, and cite policies that were violated before any disciplinary action can be taken. And even then, must public entities have a grievance process where an employee can challenge a disciplinary decision and request another look.

    HR can’t talk about what they found because of privacy issues, which makes it a ripe and fertile ground for many to engage in speculation without knowing facts. the only voice you are hearing from are the ones who got fired and they aren’t exactly neutral.

    If everything New Reader said is exactly what happened, those young people would probably also have been dismissed from where I work. We do not allow employees to use social media while they are on the job. We also don’t allow employees to tease, harass, or otherwise interact with other employees or members of the public in a way that is unprofessional You don’t have to be best buddies or eat lunch together, but we expect all employees to work as a team and conduct themselves as such in order to carry out their responsibilities to the community when they are on the clock.

    It is no different as when the newest “social media” was the telephone–in those days, employees weren’t allowed to get on the phone every 5 minutes and check in with people while they were working. Same with surfing the internet, texting people, snapchatting, instagram, or facebook.

    Yes, it might mean that an employee doesn’t have much to do. Maybe they will get bored. I understand. Learning to deal with boredom is a very important skill to develop—a lot of life situations will involve periods of boredom. We don’t let our police officers use social media this way, we don’t let our trash collectors use social media like that, why should we let lifeguards? I guarantee you that if anyone drowned, the first thing everyone would want to know is if the lifeguards were paying attention or were they on social media or texting. and if it was found out that they were texting, it wouldn’t matter one bit if it was “just for a minute” or “just to chitchat” there would be a lawsuit filed in a nanosecond.

    It may very well be that this public entity doesn’t follow these same guidelines–I don’t know anything personally about them. But in my experience, the hardest place to get fired from is a public sector job, because of the processes and policies built into the system. While some may complain about them because it’s hard to get rid of bad employees–remember that it also makes it hard to get rid of good employees, which is the intent of these processes.

  31. Anon Anon*

    I have a feeling this had more to do with adults and minors partying together than any raunchy jokes in the chat.

    This probabaly was not a work sanctioned chat, but if you have, say a 21 year old supervisor, inviting everyone to a party and it is obvious there will be alcohol, that is a problem. Add on comments, involing minors, joking about the party last night, or whatever, that creates a liability for the pool and state. If there was underage drinking with the help of an of age employee, especially, if the magority of the people at the party were employees of that pool, that could be really bad.

    This would be one of the reasons I could see them firing a bunch of employees and a line that would be crossed.

  32. Kat Rue*

    About ten years ago, I used to manage teens/very young adults (we’re talking 16 to 20 years old). And sometimes, it’s the first time they ever had actual, real-world consequences for their actions.

    Three stick out in my mind. Lysa was a young lady that called me before her last three shifts (right before she went away to college) to tell me that her father had taken her car. I told her that she had to figure out her own transportation, and she proceeded to no call/no show each of those last three shifts. Then, once she returned home for the summer, called my assistant manager (yep, retail) and informed her that she was going to be a lead, she was not going to fill out an application, and she would be starting from Day X to Day Y. My assistant told her that she had to talk to me. A few weeks later, she called another store to tell them the same thing, who then reached out to me, and I told them that she had been fired for job abandonment the year prior.

    Cersei was a great employee, and I told her I’d be interested in promoting her to a seasonal lead position, but she didn’t call me until the day before Thanksgiving, when I had already hired the team. I told her she was welcome for the summer, but she’d need to reach out with dates with enough time for me to plan next time, and as it stood, I had already hired and trained a staff for the holidays.

    Then, there was Sansa, who was with me all summer and performed… adequately. She transferred to a store closer to her university and got fired there, and then called me to come back to my store. When I reached out to the other store to make sure everything was copacetic, I had the fun of calling her back to tell her that she was not rehireable.

    Finally, there was Catelyn, who was let go after I had left the company, and friended me on Facebook, before she started making passive-aggressive hints about wanting me to buy her a video game. This story didn’t relate back to the rest of the post, but I included it because the whole conversation was so weird.

    From their perspective (“I TOLD her I didn’t have a car, why am I not rehireable?” “She SAID I could be a lead, but then she wouldn’t let me come back!” “She SAID I could come back, what do you mean, I was fired??”) I’m sure it sounded like me being excessively punitive from their perspective at the time. But the way these lifeguards were talking about how a group chat wasn’t a big deal…. well… now I’m in HR. I receive texts all the time as evidence in employee relations cases, even those sent outside of work hours. A group chat that solely consists of other employees, where raunchy jokes and other comments could have been construed extremely negatively. And frankly, my opinion is that if I’d fire an adult with 10+ years of work experience for a particular behavior, I should probably fire a teen for it too.

  33. tigerStripes*

    I continue to be impressed by Alison’s nieces. M reminds me of Alison – they both have a tendency to try to look at both sides and to be thorough.

    Some of the posters today have been absolutely convinced that one side or the other *has* to be right, and I’m puzzled to how this can be without having many actual facts. Some people even seem angry about it because they are so sure.

  34. Seville*

    Somewhat local to this community and was once a head of a beach program myself for a large lake community. Read NewReader’s comment and I have to take it with grain of salt. I fired kids for texting on duty, falling asleep on duty (this made the local paper,) for underage drinking off-duty and getting caught after vandalism/trashing an area, and for various forms of bullying. I once didn’t rehire a girl who didn ‘t hand in her paperwork for the next summer and I gave her spot away and there was an entire Facebook community post from various moms and her own calling me a b*. She was a legacy girl in her early twenties and her mom still came after me. I had a boy with a mild form of autism as an arts and crafts counselor and sign language counselor and certain kids wouldn’t switch shifts with him ever or work with him on group trips. They would undermine his authority in front of his charges by treating him poorly. Each kid got a warning with a threat of termination for excluding anybody and if his behavior was affecting their work, then they should come to me first before doing their weird young people’s version of justice. All of these incidents I would get Facebook posts, private messages, comments on news articles, etc. from moms about their kids’ versions of the story, telling me I’m inept, kids just wanna have fun, my daughter plays soccer and has straight As, she’s not a bully, blah blah. Nearly all the people under me were once kids in the program and I didn’t want any of them to not feel that the program was not a welcome place-of course exclusion is an issue. They’re fostering an environment for children to grow up in and swim safely.

    Sounds like they got more on NewReader’s daughter than she thinks. Remember, this “private chat” was a public forum of 40 to 50 employees. I personally would not one by one fire them for what this mom describes and I don’t know it would ever be handled that way in this area. And the articles say one guard estimates that 16 people or more were fired and then the release said it was only 8. another guard said it was about raunchy jokes and did not describe this scenario this mom is laying out. Clearly, there was some serious line crossing somewhere and nobody is being truthful.

  35. Seville*

    Somewhat local to this community and was once a head of a beach program myself for a large lake community. Read NewReader’s comment and I have to take it with grain of salt. I fired kids for texting on duty, falling asleep on duty (this made the local paper,) for underage drinking off-duty and getting caught after vandalism/trashing an area, and for various forms of bullying. I once didn’t rehire a girl who didn ‘t hand in her paperwork for the next summer and I gave her spot away and there was an entire Facebook community post from various moms and her own calling me a b*. She was a legacy girl in her early twenties and her mom still came after me. I had a boy with a mild form of autism as an arts and crafts counselor and sign language counselor and certain kids wouldn’t switch shifts with him ever or work with him on group trips. They would undermine his authority in front of his charges by treating him poorly. Each kid got a warning with a threat of termination for excluding anybody and if his behavior was affecting their work, then they should come to me first before doing their weird young people’s version of justice. All of these incidents I would get Facebook posts, private messages, comments on news articles, etc. from moms about their kids’ versions of the story, telling me I’m inept, kids just wanna have fun, my daughter plays soccer and has straight As, she’s not a bully, blah blah. Nearly all the people under me were once kids in the program and I didn’t want any of them to not feel that the program was not a welcome place-of course exclusion is an issue. They’re fostering an environment for children to grow up in and swim safely.

    Sounds like they got more on NewReader’s daughter than she thinks. Remember, this “private chat” was a public forum of 40 to 50 employees. I personally would not one by one fire them for what this mom describes and I don’t know it would ever be handled that way in this area. One article said one guard claimed 16 were fired when it was really around 8, one article had a guard claiming it was raunchy jokes that got them fired. 6 to 8 guards out of 40-50 is a huge chunk but it makes sense this was likely a combination of bullying/gross behavior (I once suspended a guard for commenting on a frequent beachgoer’s f-ability on social media so firing for lots of these incidences together to set an example for the other employees seems about normal.)

    1. Susan*

      Hey! You must work at my department! JK ;)

      Same here too. Drug tests, kids drinking in the locker rooms, unable to stay awake in their chairs….we’re always the bad guys no matter what the reason for firing them.
      Private to employees maybe, but maybe someone OTHER than the boy also stepped forward and said it wasn’t right. If he was harassing girls, then yes, he should be dealt with, but that doesn’t give license for employees to take matters into their own hands.

  36. casinoLF*

    It’s funny, I was a lifeguard at the Y like 20 years ago (yikes!), while I was in high school, and obviously no one had phones, let alone social media. My first instinct wasn’t that they were being inappropriate, it was that they were on their phones instead of LOOKING AT THE POOL, which is really almost entirely the point of your job!

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