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Case study time kids. Gather round the campfire and let's talk an explosive combination:

Youngsters working in the QSR industry + Smartphones + Social Media = Potential Brand Damage.

Dateline: Taco Bell. Probably in California.  Below is the picture and the company's response after the jump (email subs enable pictures - you'll want to see these):


Orginal description of situation from Gawker:

"An undated photo of an unidentified Taco Bell employee getting unhygienically intimate with a stack of taco shell was posted yesterday evening to the Taco Bell Facebook page along with the caption, "This sure says a lot about your employees, food treatment, and what they post on the internet."

Though the exact location of the Taco Bell where this unappetizing behavior took place remains unclear, several Facebook commenters are claiming the photo was snapped in Ridgecrest, California."

So pretty much any fast food chain's worst nightmare.  A day or two passes, and the company comes back with this, taken from the Taco Bell corporate site:

How Did this Happen?
The taco shells were used for training in March before we launched a new product, and were in process of being thrown out.  Two employees, however, used them to take a photo for an internal contest in which company and franchise employees could submit for approval photos of themselves enjoying their first bite of the product.  The contest had clear guidelines about what was acceptable and unacceptable.   This image was clearly unacceptable – it violated the rules and spirit of the contest, and the employees never submitted it.  But an employee posted it on a personal social media page in violation of the franchisee’s policies, and it emerged online in social media.

What we did

We immediately investigated the situation and learned these facts from our franchisee.  We are continuing our investigation and our franchisee is cooperating fully.

Our first question was, were the taco shells served to customers?  In short, absolutely not.  The taco shells were sent to restaurants for training purposes before the new product launch, so team members could use them to practice making the new product before it became available to the public.   These shells were a part of that training, were never intended to be served to customers, and were discarded. This is standard operating procedure, and our franchisee confirmed this protocol.

What We’re Doing
We do not believe these employees harmed, or intended to harm, anyone.  But we deplore the impressions this has caused to our customers, fans, franchisees, and team members.  The behavior is unacceptable for people working in a restaurant.  Our franchisee is responsible for the employment and conduct of his restaurant’s employees and he has informed us that he immediately suspended the employee shown in the photo and is in the process of terminating his employment.  The employee who took the photo no longer works there.  As we complete our investigation we will work with our franchisee to implement any additional action we find appropriate to address this situation and ensure it never happens again.

So what are the takeaways?  I think there are two:

1.  You don't need more policies - You just need good ones. Start with a solid professional conduct policy, and you can get to term when you need to about 80% of the time.  Here's how the investigation went:

Kid: "But it was part of a contest..."

Weak HR: "Oh, we didn't know that, tell me more about the contest..."

But here's how a smart HR pro comes back to that:

Strong HR: "Were you born dense or was this just a bad day?  See the professional conduct policy you signed.  Goodbye."

2. Social Media policies in the service industry that involves food prep basically need to say you can't post pictures when you're at work.  Or talk about customers.  If your'e going to have a social media policy in that industry, you might as well directly say it.  So the kids know where the ditches are.  Even though the professional conduct policy handles it.

Kids + Social Media.  Who knew?

PS - here's a picture the kid took when he got word he was fired from Reddit.  To say social media makes it a brave new world is a bit of a understatement.

Tb employee



Elyssa Thome

Can situations like this ever be completely avoided? I doubt it.

It surprises me how often employees treat social media like it's a private thing. Having clear social media policies is crucial, and I appreciate your suggestion to keep it simple and direct. I haven't figured out why common sense doesn't seem to apply to the internet. Let me know if you do.

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