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Burger King's Racist Sign, the EEOC, and Practice Tips

By Gabriella Khorasanee, JD on December 04, 2013 10:05 AM

In mid-November a photo of a sign at Burger King that stated, "Now hiring must be Mexican" went viral -- and not in a good way. Burger King quickly replied by issuing a statement explaining that it was an old photo that was taken by a disgruntled employee; they also noted that it happened at a location owned by a franchisee, but was assured that the employee was "immediately terminated as a result."

KFFM, a Washington radio station, posted the photo and took a survey asking if the sign was offensive. At the height of the controversy, about 82% of respondents found the sign offensive according to Latina, but at the time of this writing, about 54% found the sign offensive. That may have everything to do with how Burger King reacted.

1. Prompt Response

Burger King's response, if anything, was swift. If your company is getting lambasted on social media, the worst thing you could do is nothing. It will not go away by itself, you need to make it go away. Get together with the marketing department to craft a quick response.

2. Public and Personal Response

Burger King answered people's concerns in public fora by posting comments on Facebook, and by issuing a statement to Latina magazine. Not only that, but the Facebook comment was addressed personally, to a particular person's question. Though Burger King knew the public would read the comment, they kept their response tailored to the person who originally asked the question.

3. Take Action

It's not enough to get together with your company's marketing department and post some tweets and posts on social media. Your company needs to take action to resolve the underlying issue. In this case, the employee who posted the image was immediately terminated. Someone will likely get fired, so meet with management and human resources and make sure everything is done legally.

Discrimination based on national origin is, unfortunately, a growing area of concern for the EEOC. At the height of the Burger King controversy a few weeks ago, the EEOC issued a press release highlighting the findings of a public meeting on the "challenges to compliance with and enforcement of the nation's anti-discrimination in employment laws" when it comes to discrimination on the basis of national origin. As an evolving area of the law, this is one issue in-house counsel would benefit from keeping up with.

What are some of your tips for dealing with negativity on social media? Tweet us @FindLawLP.

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