Case Study: Tyson Foods and the COVID-19 Crisis

There is one thing we can all agree on: 2020 was one crazy year. Just as you and I never saw this pandemic coming, neither did many major companies. These corporations entered uncharted territories, grappling with how to protect their employees while balancing profitability.

Companies learned the hard way what not to do. For example, the meatpacking company Tyson Foods found itself with a crisis on its hands early on in the pandemic at its plant in Waterloo, Iowa. Despite their initial challenges, though, Tyson’s response team also shows how you can survive a crisis.

Tyson has faced a lawsuit due to its COVID-19 response. Tyson was aware of the seriousness of the outbreak but did not follow CDC guidelines for employee safety. These actions contributed to the mass outbreak of COVID-19 in Black Hawk County. In addition to the failure to provide safety for its employees, the manager organized a winner-take-all betting pool for supervisors and managers to wager how many employees would test positive for illness. Consequently, more than 1,000 employees at the plant in Waterloo were infected by the virus, and six have died.

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As a result of the plant’s handling of the COVID-19 outbreak, Tyson not only experienced a slew of bad press but also became the target of a lawsuit accusing the company of “fraudulent misrepresentations, gross negligence, and incorrigible, willful and wanton disregard for worker safety.”

“Behaviors exhibited by these individuals do not represent the Tyson core values,” Tyson Foods CEO Dean Banks said.

More importantly, that statement was backed up by action. Banks visited the Waterloo facility as soon as he became aware of the allegations and met with community leaders and Tyson Foods team members.

In addition, as of December 2020, seven of the managers involved with the incident at Waterloo have been fired. Tyson also partnered with the League of United Latin American Citizens, garnering positive statements from the organization’s president on the company’s worker safety improvement efforts.

We’re not saying that the Tyson Foods initial response should be a template for your next crisis response. These are just the first steps in repairing Tyson’s reputation. What we are saying, though, is that acting swiftly with contrition and authenticity is the first step to protecting your brand reputation from further damage.