- Taco Bell has apologized to an employee who was fired for wearing a Black Lives Matter mask while working at a Youngstown, Ohio, location, according to Restaurant Business.
- The employee Denzel Skinner posted a video on Facebook last week explaining that a manager terminated his employment after wearing the mask, even though the company has said staff can wear any mask they want. Off-camera the manager told him he “can’t bring politics into the building,” and that “it’s a company thing.”
- Taco Bell told Restaurant Business in an emailed statement that it will clarify its mask policy, but it does not prohibit employees from wearing Black Lives Matter masks. “We believe Black Lives Matter. We were disappointed to learn about the incident that took place in Youngstown, Ohio. We take this very seriously. We have been working closely with our franchisee that operates this location to address the issue,” the company said.
While Taco Bell's CEO Mark King released a letter on June 2 supporting the protests against systemic racism, this incident shows that there is some disconnect between the messages shared at the corporate level and what is being distilled to employees at the restaurant level.
King was clear in his letter where the company stood on the issue. He wrote, "I am committed to being part of the long-term solution. Let me be clear: we don’t tolerate racism or violence against Black people. And we demand inclusivity. We have more work to do and Taco Bell will continue to lead and drive positive change amongst our communities and beyond."
Parent company Yum has been particularly active in providing discussions where employees can express their feelings and experiences in order to stand up against racism. Taco Bell also muted its Twitter channels for the first week of June, saying it would take the time to listen.
But if the corporate stance is not communicated into clear policies, misinterpretations or flouting of the rules by franchisees and managers can hurt the corporate image. Taco Bell, for example, took a lot of heat on social media after the video went viral, leading to a #RIPTacoBell hashtag.
In its statement, Taco Bell said it would work with the franchisee in charge of the Ohio restaurant, and that corporate will work to make its messaging clearer from the top down.
Starbucks also faced backlash last week over its dress policy after BuzzFeed News released an internal memo showing that staff could not wear anything that advocates a "political, religious or personal issue," and that Black Lives Matters items could be misinterpreted and lead to violence. This memo led to widespread criticism on social media and calls to boycott the chain. The coffee chain quickly reversed its stance on June 12.
Since the protests began, many restaurant companies have openly supported the Black Lives Matter movement through various channels from corporate statements to marketing campaigns. McDonald’s released an ad in early June naming victims of police brutality. Chipotle and Panera Bread have made donations to organizations fighting for racial justice. These moves may put more pressure on major brands to establish decisive stances on social issues and ensure that employees up and down the corporate ladder interpret these core values correctly.