Far Out Friday: HR team under fire after viral shoe-washing incident

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Customers of Singapore food court chain Kopitiam have called for improvements to its HR and employee communications function, after an incident in which a staff member was filmed washing her dirty shoes in a food court sink.

The video, which went viral on social media, shows an employee of Kopitiam scrubbing her shoes with a brush in the dessert section of a food court, and returning the brush to a container containing other kitchen utensils.

Facebook user Queenie Here was moved to post a video of the hygiene breach on Sunday, writing: "Care for a dessert @NUH Kopitiam? I wanted to order dessert after my dinner. Unfortunately I saw this scene.....”

The video has since been viewed over 716,000 times, shared over 31,000 times, and drawn more than 2000 comments on Facebook.
An urgent National Environment Agency (NEA) investigation of the Kopitiam food court at National University Hospital called the incident a "flagrant breach of hygiene that could have resulted in contamination of food and utensils".

The brand reputation disaster has drawn a sincere Facebook apology from Kopitiam, in which it calls the incident an "unpleasant encounter" and assures social media users that it was taking the matter seriously.

“All washing equipment has been replaced and the sink disinfected. The staff in question has been terminated with immediate effect and we will be conducting a thorough investigation of this matter,” the post read.

However, the apology – as well as the move to fire the employee in question – was seen as deflecting blame from the company’s HR and management.

“It’s not about terminating the staff that we wanted from the company,” Facebook user Veronica Teo wrote on the company’s page. “The company should improve on educating the workers on the correct ways of food handling, personal hygiene and make food safe for consumption.”

Denise Wong Rajwani agreed: “Is this something someone should lose a job over? That's quite harsh and mercenary isn't it? Shouldn't it be feedback used to educate the staff member, and for her not to do it again?”

Facebook user Alexis Bell called on Kopitiam to prove the incident was not part of the overall company and employee culture in Singapore.

“Now Kopitiam needs to prove to customers if this problematic behavior is not part of your company's culture. Do you have hygienic standard being enforced in the kitchen area? Those questions remain unanswered,” he commented.

A Kopitiam spokesman told The Straits Times the company will be conducting a hygiene briefing for all staff members working in the food court.

The NEA, which will take action against the company, has said food retail outlets face fines of up to $2000 as well as potential licence suspension.

Kopitiam claims on its website that its HR and people development system is the "single most important factor" in differentiating the company.

“Recognising that our people are our intellectual assets that appreciate over time, Kopitiam has implemented a total people development system to ensure that all of our staff (more than 1,000 in total), regardless of rank, have both the knowledge and skills to achieve better business performance and greater productivity,” it says. “This results in increased customer satisfaction and higher returns to capital, propelling the company to even greater heights. 

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