A story straight from the “no good deed goes unpunished” files, or as my 11-year-old son would say, “Dad, that’s just wrong!”
I rarely eat at McDonald’s—primarily for health reasons—but this story, reported by Fox News this morning, leaves such a bad taste in my mouth I’m likely to boycott the golden arches for good.
Here’s what we know.
Last week, Heather Levia—a manager at a McDonald’s in Olean, NY—was working her morning shift when local firefighters came in and ordered up 25 breakfast sandwiches and hash browns. The first responders were tired and hungry after fighting a house fire in freezing temperatures. Levia is just 23, the single mother of twins, and a nursing student working two jobs to support her family and pay her tuition. According to Glassdoor, the average McDonald’s manager makes about $40K per year, which works out to about $750 a week or $125 a day—before taxes—based on a six-day work week. Wanting to do something nice for the firefighters, Levia decided to pick up their tab of $83 bucks herself, spending more than half a day’s gross on their meals. Later that morning, another fire department came in and placed an order totaling $70. Levia wanted to help this group, too, but rather than digging into her pockets again, she texted her boss to see if the company would pay. She figured it was a no-brainer, since she’d seen free meals given to police officers in the past. But the answer was no. And when Levia called corporate to see if they would approve the outlay, she was denied again, so this time, she and her co-workers covered it. When the firefighters learned of Levia’s largesse, some complained to her boss, feeling that the company had forced her hand to open her wallet. The result: Levia’s boss told her, “You opened a whole bee’s nest,” and the next day she was fired, allegedly for swearing at a superior—an allegation she denies.
The Fox article quotes Levia as saying, “It’s just wrong. I wish the communities would change and help each other out. I wish that things didn’t have to be the way they are. And if losing my job is going to speak out to the community, then that’s what it’s going to do.” Apparently, she has several job offers already.
So where does this unhappy meal story leave us?
Besides sick to our stomachs over how a company that’s earned billions by serving billions could chew up and spit out an employee with a good heart, it turns our attention to the first responders—not the actual firefighters in this case, but people like Heather Levia who stand on the front lines, manage with empathy, lead by example, and fight for their values—because they’re the ones who will bring about change. Or as Margaret Mead put it: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
It also reminds us that a company and a brand are only as good as their worst employee, and that companies without a social conscience can lose customers in droves. Levia’s boss may have thought he was doing the right thing by saving McDonald’s a whopping $70, but the fire he started by flipping her out the door will likely prove a hard one to quench.
How hard is it, really, to just do the right thing?