- Starbucks fired an Indiana employee for a TikTok about demanding customers.
- Workers at Chick-fil-A, Sherwin-Williams, and other companies have been fired after viral TikToks.
- An analyst told Insider that companies are wary of anything that might damage the brand online.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
A 19-year-old Starbucks barista says he was fired for posting a TikTok about work, Buzzfeed News reported.
Eli Servais posted a since-deleted video on TikTok in September showing ways he and his coworkers wish they could respond to demanding customers. “There were no customers there. We were closed or about to be closed, so we were just having fun. Nothing was broken or vandalized,” he told Buzzfeed.
A Starbucks spokesperson told Buzzfeed that “there is an expectation that partners create a respectful, safe and welcoming environment.”
As TikTok’s popularity has grown, companies have struggled with how to deal with posts from employees. In July, an Ohio college student was fired by Sherman-Williams for his viral paint-mixing videos. Four airport employees in Fresno, California were fired last year after making videos of dance trends using airport equipment as props. A California Chick-fil-A worker said she was fired after posting a video of a menu-hack that gained millions of views.
These are just a few cases that have gained attention as companies decide how to police social media posts on the job. Nurses and cops are frequent offenders too, sometimes getting into trouble with managers, Fast Company reported.
Employees tend to feel that they’re giving companies positive attention.
“I personally don’t believe it is fair for employees to be fired over viral videos,” fired Chick-fil-A employee Ana told Insider in August. “I’m sure I gave Chick-fil-A a bunch of free publicity and don’t believe I should have been fired.”
In the case of the Fresno airport service agents, comments were almost entirely positive and commenters said that they shouldn’t have been fired. One of the workers, Tommy Chan, said that the head of airport social media told them “Nice video.”
The firing decisions can also be confusing to people outside the company. There are thousands of TikToks seemingly made by Starbucks baristas at work, and most don’t make the news. Law professor Elizabeth C. Tippett wrote that “even the most innocuous videos likely violate standard corporate social media policies.“
Employees are often bound by social media policies that prohibit speaking on behalf of the company and using the brand without permission. Starbucks declined to share any further details about this specific case with Insider.
Until relatively recently, there were few ways for a young, low-level employee to create something about business viewed by millions, Kalinowski Equity Research founder Mark Kalinowski told Insider. Now it’s easy thanks to social media, most recently TikTok, and “ultimately any large company wants their brand to become more valuable over time, so they want to control their image,” Kalinowski said.