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Whataburger Survives PR Nightmare After Worker Denies Service to Police

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By Ephrat Livni, Esq. on September 17, 2015 9:57 AM

A Whataburger worker in Lewisville, Texas was fired for refusing to serve two off-duty police officers, creating a public relations nightmare for the company and raising interesting questions about how to handle rogue employees. The fast food joint came under fire on Twitter after news of the employee's refusal to serve the officers circulated. Whataburger immediately responded on social media.

"We would never condone this action and this is completely unacceptable. We are working hard to address this as soon as possible." Indeed, by this morning at 9 AM the business tweeted that the employee was off the payroll and that the two officers who were refused service have been asked back so that Whataburger can "make this right."

Good Cop, Bad Cop

The officers' mixed responses, however, show how difficult it will be for the company to correct the perception -- created by a single employee acting independently -- that Whataburger is anti-police.

Officer Michael Magovern told Fox4 News that he still loves Whataburger and doesn't want to throw the company "under the bus" (although he gladly enjoyed a meal at Dairy Queen after the incident). He believes this is a problem with one location or one employee, and in his thirty years serving the public as a firefighter and police officer, "this is the first time this has ever happened to me."

Magovern thought the man behind the Whataburger counter was joking when he said, "We don't serve police officers." But Officer Cameron Beckham was less inclined to take the incident in stride, saying, "It really strikes a nerve personally and professionally because maybe he's joking or maybe he's not, but how do we trust that individual or that company to cook anyone's food now?"

We, the Tweeple

People on twitter responded more positively, however, with many showing their support for the burger company and lauding its quick response on social media. ME Harpahl wrote, "@Whataburger Awesome job! Will take the family to my local Whataburger today to honor a great Texas company! Thank you Whataburger!"

Still, not everyone was pleased and some tweeted that Whataburger was not doing enough. The company is sticking to its story, however, repeating the phrases "apologize" and "make it right" in most of its exchanges.

How to Handle Rogue Employees

So what should you do if you find yourself in Whataburger's very awkward position, with your hard work and stellar reputation sullied by the carelessness of a single employee? Follow the fast food company's lead.

First, be careful what you tweet. People will demand engagement, statements, and explanations. Do apologize but do not say anything certain until you have a plan for finding out what happened. Make sure the company's response is unified, consistent, and coming from an appropriate person.

Try not to get caught up in the urgency of the moment. Even an emergency PR situation benefits from a little planning -- you may not have much time to mull it over, but do carefully consider your words before speaking as you may risk more blunders. And what a bummer that would be.

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