Nick Batistich, 22, was called to a disciplinary meeting on the last working day before Christmas and told he faced possible dismissal for a Facebook post which was heavily critical of KFC's parent company, Restaurant Brands.
The company has been embroiled in controversy over sexual assault and harassment by managers, since multiple workers at its KFC and Pizza Hut stores went public in December with a range of complaints.
They included a woman who was raped three times by her manager
Last week, wage theft and doctoring timesheets at a Christchurch KFC outlet were added to the list of claims from workers at KFC and Pizza Hut stores nationwide.
Batistich said he posted on his private Facebook page after reading Stuff's investigation on December 9. He said he had also been harassed and discriminated against at the Wellington KFC store where he worked, for being transgender. He raised a complaint which went nowhere, he said, and was moved to speak up when he heard others had similar experiences.
"It made me feel sick because I know that there have been sexual harassment cases in the hospitality [industry] before, but I thought the industry was getting better," Batistich told Stuff.
The post, which was taken down before the disciplinary meeting, called Restaurant Brands a "f…… trash dumpster fire of a company".
"Keep in mind RB is in charge of KFC, Pizza Hut AND ALSO Starbucks, Carls Jnr., and Taco Bell in NZ. I can guarantee you that these 4 cases are just the surface of the iceberg that is harassment at RB stores. The story should be a lot bigger than it already is, and honestly I wouldn't be afraid of boycotting RB stores until they sort out their b.......", the post ended.
Batistich said the privacy settings on his page meant only his approximately 90 Facebook "friends" could see it, and it did not qualify as public. He changed settings to ensure two friends who also worked at KFC, were unable to see the post.
Restaurant Brands head office staff were shown the first sentence of the post by Batistich's store manager, who had in turn been shown a screenshot by a third person.
But Restaurant Brands argued the screenshot proved the post could be considered "public" and was a breach of its social media rules.
It also claimed the language used in the post was "disrespectful and disparaging". It rejected Batistich's argument the company could only be brought into disrepute if the comments were "undeserved".
In a letter on December 23, seen by Stuff, a Restaurant Brands area manager told Batistich he was "considering dismissal" but would wait to hear his feedback before finalising his decision.
He worked at KFC through the Christmas period, but opted to resign in January because he "didn't want to work for a company that wasn't really trying to better itself on sexual harassment".
Unite Union industrial officer Duncan Allan said Restaurant Brands' response to the Facebook post was extreme and unwarranted and, despite ordering a full review of harassment policies and practices, the company was "shutting down the first sign of criticism".
"Nick's privacy settings were friends-only, and under this privacy setting friends are not able to share the post. The only way that it can reach a wider audience is if someone takes a screenshot," Allan said.
"Under [Restaurant Brands'] interpretation, all documents in any form are public because everyone has a phone and is capable of taking screenshots."
Allan said the phrase "dumpster fire" was warranted, and dictionaries defined it as "an utterly calamitous or mismanaged situation or occurrence".
"A dumpster fire is precisely what was being described in [Stuff's] article. Nick did not bring the company into disrepute or damage its reputation – the article itself (does) but only through factual reporting of Restaurant Brands' own behaviour.
"It is not undeserved criticism."
A statement from Restaurant Brands said the company did not comment on individual employment matters, but said there were procedures available for staff to raise concerns and have them addressed.
"Where employees make public comments that have the potential to bring the company into disrepute, including comments made via social media, the company will address those matters in accordance with its policies and procedures," the statement said.
WHERE VICTIMS OF SEXUAL VIOLENCE CAN GET HELP
Rape Crisis - 0800 88 33 00 (Will direct you to a nearby centre), follow link for information on local helplines
Victim Support - 0800 842 846 (24hr service)
The Harbour, online support and information for those affected by harmful sexual behaviour
Women's Refuge (For women and children) - crisis line available on 0800 733 843
Safe to talk - 0800 044 334, text 4334 or web chat
Male Survivors Aotearoa (For men) - follow link for regional helplines
If you or someone else is in immediate danger call 111.
Hannah Shelton Agar