More than 100 UK McDonald’s staff have alleged working in a toxic culture of sexual assault, harassment, racism and bullying according to a new investigation by the BBC.
The BBC’s report found workers as young as 17 were being groped and harassed during their employment at the fast-food chain.
One claim from a 17-year-old current employee in Cheshire said a colleague 20 years older than her called her a racial slur, asked to show her his penis, and said he wanted to make a “black and white” baby with her.
Another claim regarded a manager in Hampshire who suggested a 16-year-old male worker perform sexual acts in exchange for vapes.
Of the more than 100 allegations from employees made to the BBC during its investigation, 31 related to sexual assault, and 78 related to sexual harassment.
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In February this year, McDonald’s signed a legally binding agreement with the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) which included commitments to enhance policies to prevent sexual harassment and improve responses to complaints.
Speaking to HR magazine, Kishwer Falkner, chairwoman of the EHRC said: “I’m concerned at these new reports of harassment at McDonald’s, where we have an existing legal agreement in place to ensure their restaurants are safe places to work.”
“McDonald’s have committed to make improvements to set an example for others to follow, in the hospitality industry and elsewhere.
“We will look at them closely in the context of our current legal agreement with McDonald’s to tackle sexual harassment of staff in its restaurants.”
In light of the BBC’s investigation, the EHRC has set up a confidential email hotline for McDonalds staff to report harassment.
Alistair Macrow, CEO of McDonald’s UK and Ireland, apologised for incidents where it has “fallen short”.
Speaking to HR magazine, he said: “There is simply no place for harassment, abuse or discrimination of any kind at McDonald’s, and we will investigate all allegations brought to us, and all proven breaches of our code of conduct will be met with the most severe measures we can legally impose, up to and including dismissal.”
The news follows a decision by the government to water down plans for the Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Bill.
The Bill will no longer make employers liable for harassment of their employees by third parties and the duty on employers to prevent sexual harassment will also be weakened.
What are the legal implications of the McDonald’s allegations?
David Miers, consultant solicitor, at law firm Setfords said victims will likely have legal redress in both the employment tribunal and county court.
Speaking to HR magazine, he said: “For the victims, the impact of the harassment will continue to invade their lives long after leaving their employment at McDonald’s, after all, many of the victims are aged between 16-25 and likely saw their roles as a good first step on the employment ladder.
“That is why it is so important for companies to protect workers in the first place or be held vicariously liable if they do not.”
HR responsibilities on sexual harassment
Kathryn Kendall, chief people officer at wealth management firm Saltus, said tackling sexual harassment is the responsibility of every leader within an organisation, but HR support is crucial.
Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “HR has a vital role to play when it comes to working with leaders to challenge behaviours and to agree reporting structures, training, and support frameworks; but true change needs to be driven right from the very top of the organisation.”
Kendall said HR need to ensure there are accessible and effective reporting routes for victims of harassment and assault.
She said: “The first step to enabling more victims to report incidents of harassment is to remove the taboo which is often associated with it as a topic of discussion in the workplace. Leaders need to make it part of their day-to-day role to encourage transparency of reporting.
“HR must ensure that there are supportive and streamlined procedures in place which are followed consistently in the event of any claims, prioritising the experience of the victim at all stages.
“Every single one of us deserves to both feel and be safe at work. For the minority of perpetrators responsible for such harassment, it needs to be made abundantly clear that such behaviours will simply not be tolerated.”