KFC and disabled workers

September 29th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The editorial:

Work for the mentally disabled used to be provided in so called sheltered work- shops. These days, it depends on employers with a sense of social responsibility. They can give disabled people the dignity of a real job and semblance of personal independence.

One of those employers has been the fast-food chain, New Zealand. Its staff included disabled people who could do basic tasks such as filling its side-order packs and cleaning. Last year it had a change of heart.

Its owner, Restaurant Brands, decided to review its costs and find ways to maximise the chain’s profitability. One way was to require all staff to be capable of doing any job in the store, from the counter to the kitchen. Soon, the disabled were getting notice.

I had no problem with KFC deciding that for future staff, they would have a policy that all staff be capable of doing any job in the store. There can be very sound reasons for such a policy.

But when they erred badly was applying the policy retrospectively to existing staff, and making redundant some long-term staff members (including disabled ones). It was insensitive at best and callous at worst.

The Herald on Sundayrevealed the systematic lay-offs of disabled workers at KFC. The anguish of these people and their families was heart-rending. One of them was a 48-year-old woman who had been packing potato and gravy at a KFC outlet for nearly 18 years. She loved putting on her uniform and going proudly to work, her sister said.

Loyalty is a two way ship, and if a staff member has been a diligent worker for 18 years, it is almost beyond belief that you would dismiss them just because they don’t quite fit in to your new ideal structure. A bit of flexibility is sensible. What the hell does it matter if in say a dozen of your stores you have one employee who can’t work as a server – but can work as a packer.

As I said above, no issues with KFC deciding for future staff appointments that they want people who can work in all positions. There can be very sound business reasons for doing so. But one could transition into such an arrangement by grandfathering in current staff.

29 Responses to “KFC and disabled workers”

  1. Daigotsu (485 comments) says:

    It’s a business, not a charity.

    This idea of ‘loyalty’ to staff is just socialist guff, trying to impose additional burdens on employers struggling under excessive regulations and tax burdens thanks to years of big government. Employees must be able to do their jobs. Doesn’t sound too harsh to me.

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  2. WineOh (1,053 comments) says:

    I can see how this would be useful especially for small sites, where there are a relatively small number of people to do a bunch of different tasks – it also means when staff are on holiday or out sick that someone can step in to do their job. It also helps with job satisfaction if the crew are trained in lots of different aspects of running a store, and makes it potentially easier to upskill and be promoted for capable workers.

    But to apply a new condition like this to existing staff surely must be illegal – an employer can’t arbitrarily change the terms of an employment agreement and the unspoken terms and tasks that they were initially hired for. The cynic in me has me wondering whether the policy would be used to get rid of employees that were a bit more difficult to manage, essentially be able to performance manage them out of the shop. No shortage of people putting their hand up for menial low paid jobs these days.

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  3. liarbors a joke (1,069 comments) says:

    18 years packing potato and gravy..O.M.G. !

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  4. Harriet (7,516 comments) says:

    I’d agree with the retrospective part – BUT:

    The problem that all businesses have today is with regards to matters of productiveness, wage costs, and the pace of change.

    The workplace is for workers and should only ever be for workers. Why would you ever employ someone for doing less?

    If you can’t committ yourself fully, on time and all the time, then you shouldn’t be in the workforce.

    No co-worker wants to be paid the same or 30% more for doing TWICE as much as another ‘worker’ with todays cost of living.

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  5. hmmokrightitis (1,910 comments) says:

    Disagree Daig. KFC employees these workers and has for many years, knowing full well their capability. Most of them work very short hours – like 3 hours or less 2 times a week – and KFC knew this when they took them on. Its good for both the employee – gives them some semblance of a real life – and KFC – cheap labour doing low skill work. Its an obvious part of KFC’s corporate social responsibility work. And good on them.

    To dump them as a result of a change was a clusterfuck that could probably be laid at “HR’s” door. A more able destroyer of corporate goodwill you could never hope to find.

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  6. Tom Barker (320 comments) says:

    Congratulations to the UNITE union for this important victory over corporate cruelty, thereby demonstrating the necessity for a vibrant union movement.

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  7. Psycho Milt (3,367 comments) says:

    This idea of ‘loyalty’ to staff is just socialist guff…

    Interesting. So that would make the idea of “loyalty” to your employer just capitalist guff?

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  8. Alan (1,087 comments) says:

    It’s simply bad business practice, for every dollar they save, they’ll lose 20 in reduced sales due to people thinking they are a bunch of evil c**ts.

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  9. slightlyrighty (2,423 comments) says:

    Yes, I agree that KFC is a business. But as a business, when this measure was first mooted, did no executive stop for a moment and ask how this measure would look to it’s customers?

    Is is sound business practice to take such a measure that, when viewed by the public who buys your goods, would paint management as a bunch of pricks, and cause animosity towards your brand?

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  10. Kea (15,179 comments) says:

    Regardless of the business aspect this is brutal. I do not think many people would be ok with it. I doubt the resulting bad PR makes it a great business idea either.

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  11. OneTrack (4,602 comments) says:

    With all this outcry against KFC, what is the obvious thing that other companies can do to make sure they don’t end up in the same situation themselves. Oh. Wait.

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  12. Daigotsu (485 comments) says:

    As a boss I expect my employees to do what their contract says and nothing more.

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  13. jcuk (1,479 comments) says:

    I will try and remember this story and avoid KFC in future. It is all part of being a responsible citizen/employer and KFC is obviously not. The clueless administrator is the one who should be sacked, or put on the potato gravy duty for six months. They are incompetant in not appreciating the bad PR it has brought the firm.

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  14. Right of way is Way of Right (956 comments) says:

    I have a daughter who works part time at KFC to help fund her way through a tertiary degree course at university, in fact, she works at the Birkenhead shop that appeared to be the focal point of this whole issue.

    Shortly after this story broke, and while she was working there, the store received a huge number of phone calls that were threatening and very upsetting to the staff there, for a number of reasons. Firstly, the staff at the shops had no part in the sacking of the disabled staff, as this was a call from HR at headquarters, not from the store management. At the time of the sacking, the staff there were quite disbelieving of the attitude displayed by corporate HQ, and rightly saw it as being ultimately detrimental to KFC. There was some push back, but in the end the directive from on high was just to ‘get on with it’.

    The staff there were upset and the sacking, and further upset at the vitriol that followed this being released in the media.

    There is a great deal of satisfaction to be had in the fact that someone at KFC has had a change of heart, or more correctly, has been made aware that there is a social and reputational cost to be offset against any perceived financial savings, and that the balance sheet is adversely affected by much more than a simple economic equation.

    I wish more companies would remember that the community they live in is not just the source of their labour force, but also the source of all their customers!

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  15. jcuk (1,479 comments) says:


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  16. jcuk (1,479 comments) says:

    There are the bean counters and there are responsible employers who appreciate their position in society and where possible employ or give work to Shelter Workshops … it had obviously worked for 18 years so why the change for a misguided and irresponsible employment policy … obviously a badly trained idiot in managment. There are a lot of those in NZ management.

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  17. Chi Hsu (181 comments) says:

    The reality is though that by having hired disabled workers in the first place, KFC have done something most other business owners would never do. Unfortunately, by attacking KFC for this policy also means that future employers are less likely to risk hiring disabled workers for fear of backlash should they ever wish to restructure.

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  18. xy (301 comments) says:

    Daigotsu: Wait, so you WANT your employees working to rule? That must be going great for you!

    Most effective employers realise that motivated employees go above and beyond the letter of their contracts.

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  19. burt (11,448 comments) says:


    This is no different to what Cunliffe has done.

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  20. Reid (21,405 comments) says:

    This is no different to what Cunliffe has done.

    Yes. I’ve been waiting for ages for leftism to become a recognised disability as well as a notifiable disease. But strangely there seems little demand for such a progressive measure. Perhaps it’s because I’m an advanced thinker.

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  21. liarbors a joke (1,069 comments) says:

    nom nom..KFC , I’ll still buy it..love their Double Down burgers …

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  22. backster (2,507 comments) says:

    The editorial fails to mention how many disabled people the Herald on Sunday’s company employs, or whether they have been able to enlist some of those losing the KFC jobs.

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  23. lofty (1,570 comments) says:

    Daigotsu: do you employ robots only? We prefer to employ thinkers who are capable of practical wisdom, it is far better all round to have staff who can make decisions based on practicalities, empathy & experience.
    Something obviously missing in the KFC management decision.

    Rules and laws often overtake common sense.

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  24. transmogrifier (527 comments) says:

    A good example of the market in action: a company (legally and rationally) make an employment decision, a section of their customer base dislikes it and generates a lot of negative publicity, newspapers run the controversy, the company then decides to reverse course.

    Everyone involved were in their rights to do what they did (minus stupid things like threatening phone calls, of course), and eventually customer power, or at least the illusion of customer power, helped dictate corporate policy.

    And no need for government intervention or legislation at all. That’s the most important part of it.

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  25. edd (159 comments) says:

    If we demand individual responsibility then we also demand corporate responsibility…

    Maximizing profits for the individual, at the expense of the community, is a poor example to set.

    Why can’t KFC have a policy of x% disabled workers on their staff. I’m sure the government could write that off as a charitable expense. Better than giving free money, through charity, to the same disabled people, who can’t compete for work against normal individuals in a fair contest.

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  26. infused (714 comments) says:

    That’s fucking nuts. What idiots.

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  27. Akaroa (1,333 comments) says:

    Laudable sentiments, but, regrettably, more appropriate to the years before adequate ACC and other compensatory disability payments were available.

    Still, seems a bit rough to squash a handicapped person’s willingness to work, but i suspect – (without checking) – that the question of employers’ responsibility for the safety of staff may have had something to do with these terminations of employment.

    (Consider; A handicapped employee is responsible for the accidental injury -(burning.scalding) – of him/herself or of another employee. What is the liability of the employer? Especially in countries without an all-enveloping ACC system)

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  28. orewa1 (430 comments) says:

    “Employers’ responsibility for the safety of staff may have had something to do with these terminations.”

    If this is true, then it is the politically-correct legal responsibilities of employers that need a shake up. The disabled workers should not bear the brunt.

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  29. RRM (12,550 comments) says:

    Poor form.

    Not impressed.

    (Occasional KFC customer.)

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