Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

It seems but a distant memory.

It turned out they were waiting for another man to start a business meeting.

After that debacle, Starbucks instituted an open-door policy. Anyone could be in Starbucks for any reason, as long as it wasn't illegal or disturbing anyone else.

Things have seemed relatively calm since then.

Until, that is, on Thursday.

On this Independence Day, six police officers ordered drinks at a Tempe, Arizona Starbucks.

All seemed normal. Until, they say, a barista asked them to either move out of the sight line of a particular customer who felt uncomfortable or leave.

The officers did the latter.

Their union, the Tempe Officers Association, quickly took to Twitter to suggest a Dump Starbucks boycott. 

The union's statement added: 

This treatment of public safety workers could not be more disheartening. While the barista was polite, making such a request at all was offensive. Unfortunately, such treatment has become all too common in 2019. We know this is not a national policy at Starbucks Corporate and we look forward to working collaboratively with them on this important dialogue.

What, as a business leader, do you do when an employee appears to go against your clear and stated policy?

What sort of discipline is appropriate, if the facts are as the police allege?

In the Philadelphia incident, the manager was soon no longer a Starbucks employee.

In this Tempe case, Starbucks issued its own statement from a spokesman: 

We have reached out to the Tempe police department to try to better understand what took place and apologize for any misunderstandings or inappropriate behavior that may have taken place. We work with them a lot on events, like Coffee with a Cop, in our stores and we have a great relationship with them, so we are surprised that something like this may have taken place. I just want them to understand how much we value them and what they bring to the community. It is too early to say what type of ramifications employees will face, if any. But we want it to be known that everyone who walks into our store should feel welcomed and embraced and to have the best Starbucks experience -- and when that doesn't happen, that is not indicative of the kind of welcoming environment that we want to provide.

Starbucks' management is in a difficult position here, especially as all the facts haven't emerged.

Why would a customer ask the police to step aside? Why, moreover, would a barista try and effect such a request? 

I contacted Starbucks to ask for more details and will update, should they emerge.

In my local Starbucks, both the California Highway Patrol and the local sheriffs are regular customers.

Starbucks managers know it's important to have good relations because, when an incident occurs -- and they do --, it takes one phone call to the sheriffs for a swift arrival. 

Perhaps most troubling in the Tempe incident is the union's claim that "such treatment has become all too common in 2019."

It's true that, in some fast food establishments, there have been incidents in which staff didn't want to serve police officers.

Is this, at least to some extent, a reflection of the fractious times we're living in?

Trust between humans seems to be breaking down. 

Some of the most fundamental institutions are being attacked, as are some of the most fundamental truths.

Everyone takes sides, sometimes without truly knowing why.

In the middle are businesses trying to be open to everyone, while maintaining a peaceful atmosphere.

Some will wonder what the officers might have done to provoke a reaction from the customer. They might also add that the Dump Starbucks logo was, at best, inelegant.

Equally, others will say this is an example of blatant anti-police sentiment.

Starbucks will just wish it had never happened. 

But it knows that somewhere, at some point, such incidents might and the chain may find it hard to come out looking good. 

The problem now is to find a way for everyone to be peaceful again. 

These days, few seem to be succeeding with that.

Published on: Jul 6, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.