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5 Infamous Employee Snafus, 5 Lessons in Employer Branding

The recent media overkill coverage of Steven Slater – the Jetblue employee and future reality TV star who became mad as hell on the job last week and wasn’t going to take it anymore - is just the latest in several high-profile incidents of employees behaving badly. We took some time to reflect on this and four other recent stories of employees whose antics caused some very public embarrassment for their (now former) employers – and how those employers were able to maintain their employment brand image in the aftermath. Take a look…

1. Jetblue Flight Attendant Leaves Passengers in Shock

The Incident: If you don’t already know the name Steven Slater – and how the Jetblue flight attendant dramatically told off passengers before grabbing a beer and walking off the job (via the plane’s emergency exit slide) last week….well, you do now.
The Aftermath: While some believe that Slater’s behavior is symbolic of the overall frustration workers feel right now, others went so far as to praise him as a hero…resulting in what could have been a PR nightmare for Jetblue.
Damages incurred? Jetblue has shown before that it can bounce back from bad PR, and the chances that it can do so again seem pretty promising. TheSeamlessWorkforce lauded Jetblue for handling the situation the way it did: By addressing the situation, and acknowledging that while yes, this unfortunate incident did happen, “the company’s culture is bigger than any one employee or event.”  Jetblue also pointed out that this was an isolated incident, and reminded us that there are a large number of employees who are currently happily employed. The airliner also wins points for taking the high road in not badmouthing Slater.    

2. Domino’s Employees Become Infamous on YouTube

The Incident: Last April, two Domino’s Pizza employees filmed themselves preparing sandwiches for delivery while, shall we say, violating various health-code standards – and then posted the video on YouTube.
The Aftermath: Domino’s initially attempted to keep its damage control under the radar, believing that a knee-jerk response would only draw more attention to the video; however, just one day after the video appeared on YouTube, over a million viewers had seen the video (thanks in part to link-sharing on Twitter). That’s when Domino’s president, Patrick Doyle, decided to fight fire with fire by issuing an apology video on YouTube and setting up a Twitter account in order to address the comments regarding the incident.
Damages Incurred? Despite its attempts to save its tarnished brand, Domino’s received criticism for reacting too slowly to the incident, and a company spokesman later admitted that they underestimated “the perpetual mushroom effect of viral sensations.” While media coverage of the incident has since died down, employers would be wise to learn from Domino’s nightmare: Namely, to maintain a presence in social media in order to pay attention to what others are saying about your brand so you can respond in a timely and appropriate manner.

3. ‘Too Hot’ Citibank Employee Fires Back After Being Fired

The Incident: After a suit filed earlier this year, in which former Citibank employee Debrahlee Lorenzana claimed she was fired for being ‘too hot,’ was dismissed, Lorenzana then filed a gender discrimination complaint against the bank.
The Aftermath: Citibank has consistently played the “we’re not playing the public outcry card” card, refusing to comment on the first lawsuit and saying only the following about the most recent filing: “Unlike Ms. Lorenzana, Citibank does not intend to try this case in the media and we reiterate that her termination was based on poor performance. Although we can’t speak to her previous attention-seeking activities, her current attempts to gain personal publicity are as transparent as her legal claims. We remain confident that when all of the facts and documentation are presented, the claim will be dismissed.”
Damages Incurred? Few to none. Alleging that Lorenzana is only in it for the media attention (a claim Lorenzana isn’t exactly helping to dispel), Citibank seems confident that its brand advocates will do their part to defend Citibank’s brand. (It also probably works in Citibank’s favor that the defendant’s story doesn’t exactly incite an outcry of public sympathy.)

4. TSA Employees Learn What Goes on the Internet Stays on the Internet

The Incident: Last December, five Transportation Security Administration employees allegedly posted a 93-page confidential document on airport passenger screening to the Internet on.
The Aftermath: The TSA immediately placed the employees on leave, and released a statement announcing that release announcing they take “full responsibility for this improper posting and all individuals who may have been involved have been placed on administrative leave, pending the outcome of the review.” The TSA also made sure to downplay the significance of the security breach, assuring the public that the document was “not the everyday screening manual” and that “screening protocols have not been compromised.” Under pressure from Congressional critics, the TSA also promised to launch an internal review to investigate the matter.
Damages Incurred? It’s hard to tell…The initial controversy over the security breach seems to have died down in the 10 months since it happened (and a more recent PR hiccup has since taken some of the attention), but some have suggested that the TSA’s newly adopted recruitment ploy reeks more of desperation than creativity.

5. Comcast Employee Falls Asleep on the Job

The Incident: Once again, the power of YouTube helps tarnish a brand’s name, this time in June 2006, when a video of a Comcast employee who fell asleep on the job was uploaded to the site and became a “minor internet sensation.”
The Aftermath: Comcast fired the employee immediately and released a statement assuring its customers that providing a positive customer experience was its top priority.
Damages Incurred? In the world of employee scandals, this one was relatively minor, and because no one was hurt (or ingesting any tainted food products), Comcast was able to come away from this one incident relatively unscathed.

What are your thoughts? Do you think these employers have sufficiently recovered from these incidents? Would you have reacted differently had any of these incidents happened at your workplace?

Mary Lorenz

About Mary Lorenz

Mary is a copywriter for CareerBuilder, specializing in B2B marketing and corporate recruiting best practices and social media. In addition to creating copy for corporate advertising and marketing campaigns, she researches and writes about employee attraction, engagement and retention. Whenever possible, she makes references to pop culture. Sometimes, those references are even relevant. A New Orleans native, Mary now lives in Chicago, right down the street from the best sushi place in the city. It's awesome.

This happens when the company forgets its internal public, which is the most important. For employees have no choice but to accept the consequences, once they have committed this blunder.


This happens when the company forgets its internal public, which is the most important. For employees have no choice but to accept the consequences, once they have committed this blunder.


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