Finalist in the AoM 2021 Dark Side Case Competition, Critical Management Studies division of Academy of Management 2021.

Tyson Foods during COVID-19 Pandemic

Tyson Foods during COVID-19 Pandemic
Case Code: BECG176
Case Length: 13 Pages
Period: 2020-2021
Pub Date: 2022
Teaching Note: Available
Price: Rs.500
Organization: Tyson Foods Inc
Industry: Foodservice
Countries: United States
Themes: Business Ethics, COVID-19,Discrimination
Tyson Foods during COVID-19 Pandemic
Abstract Case Intro 1 Case Intro 2 Excerpts


The case discusses Arkansas-based meat processing company Tyson Foods Inc.’s (Tyson Foods) alleged negligent practices with regard to the safety of its workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Critics contended that workers at Tyson’s meat processing facility at Waterloo, Iowa, worked in closed production lines with no masks or personal protective equipment, and social distancing norms were violated, exposing them to the virus. They also alleged that even workers who felt ill were instructed by plant managers to ignore the COVID-19 symptoms and continue working. In April 2020, when Black Hawk County Sheriff Tony Thompson visited the Waterloo plant, he saw that workers were not wearing proper face masks and were standing elbow-to-elbow cutting hog carcasses. Consequently, the plant was shut down in April 2020 but Tyson Foods heavily lobbied the White House and local officials to get meat classified as an “essential” under the Defense Production Act (DPA). This was followed by Tyson Foods posting full-page advertisements in newspapers to warn of potential meat shortages in the US if its plant was shut down. The plant reopened in May 2020. While Tyson Foods continued with its operations, three workers died due to COVID-19 at its Waterloo, Iowa plant. Consequently, the families of these workers filed a lawsuit against Tyson Foods at Iowa’s District Court for Black Hawk County. The lawsuit claimed that the managers had lied to the workers about the spread of COVID-19, that the company had failed to implement adequate workplace safety measures, and that supervisors had encouraged sick workers showing COVID-19 symptoms to continue working. In December 2020, New York comptroller Scott M Stringer (Stringer) called the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to investigate Tyson Foods’ ‘dubious claims’ that it had adhered to the safety guidelines from The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) during the pandemic. Stringer also stated that Tyson’s response to the pandemic was slow and the steps it had taken to protect its workers were minimal and had led to more infections. Critics felt that the situation at Tyson Foods and several other meat packing facilities in the US had only gone to show the kind of disregard in which such companies held their workers and portrayed contemporary capitalism at its worst. They opined that corporate greed and the singular focus on making profits had put workers’ lives at risk since the workers had to report to work despite having COVID-19 symptoms. Going forward, what should Tyson Foods do to provide a safe working environment to its workers? What role can regulators and employers such as Tyson play in improving the working conditions for employees at the workplace? Amidst the pandemic, how do the management of companies such as Tyson Foods balance the need for providing essentials to customers with the need to keep their workers and customers safe?


The case is structured to achieve the following teaching objectives:

  • Study and discuss Tyson Foods’ business practices during the pandemic and to examine whether the company was found wanting during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Understand the role that regulators and employers play in improving the working conditions for employees at the workplace.
  • Explore how companies can balance the need for competitiveness with upholding the need for safety of their workers and public health.



Tyson Foods Inc; Meat processing plants; Covid-19 safety protocols; Defense Production Act; Critical infrastructure; Employee health, safety, and wellness; Social distance monitors; Personal Protective Equipment; Workstation dividers; Safe working environment; Lawsuit; Racial discrimination; Pandemic PR; Coronavirus task force; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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