McDonald’s has signed a legal agreement with the equality watchdog amid concerns over how it has handled sexual harassment complaints made by UK staff.
The legally binding agreement, with the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), commits the group to a number of measures to better protect workers in the UK.
The move comes after allegations by workers at the fast-food chain’s US restaurants of sexual harassment in the workplace over several years and the company’s failure to deal with the issue.
It is not known how many current complaints have been made in the UK, but the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU) claimed in 2019 that more than 1,000 UK cases had been reported.
McDonald’s legally binding pledge with EHRC outlines their new commitment to several measures to better protect UK workers, but it does not cover overseas territories such as Ireland, or the US. These include communicating a zero-tolerance stance on sexual harassment, providing anti-harassment training to staff, and implementing effective policies to manage complaints.
'No place in our society'
Alistair Macrow, Chief Executive Officer of McDonald’s in the UK & Ireland, said harassment and abuse had “no place in our society or at McDonald’s” following the announcement.
“As one of the UK’s leading employers, the safety and wellbeing of our people is our absolute priority,” Macros said.
“It is hugely important to me that everyone in our organisation feels safe, respected and included at all times – this is core to the values of our business.
“We already have a strong track record in this area and I now welcome the opportunity to work with the EHRC to further strengthen this. We will partner with the EHRC to bolster our best practice training and reporting approaches across our business to ensure that our values are understood, lived and acted upon across our organisation. Harassment and abuse have no place in our society or at McDonald’s.”
Baroness Kishwer Falkner, Chairwoman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said: “There should be zero tolerance of sexual harassment in every organisation. It can devastate people’s lives and create a toxic working environment for all.
"Every employer, no matter how big or small, is responsible for protecting its workforce. We work with all companies to help them do this. We are determined to crack down on workplace cultures of sexual harassment, whether in restaurants or hotels, sports clubs or offices.
“We are pleased that McDonald’s has signed this agreement to signal their intent to make their restaurants safe places to work. The improvements they put in place can set an example for others to follow, whether in the hospitality industry or elsewhere.”
A fifth of workers have experienced violence and harassment
McDonald’s may be one of the most recognisable brands facing a battle against workplace harassment but, to state the obvious, the issue is not unique to the fast-food giant.
Recent research uncovered that a fifth of people worldwide (21%) have experienced at least one form of violence and harassment at work in their working lifetime.
More worryingly, the research also found that a majority of those who had experienced violence and harassment at work had experienced it multiple times – 61% in instances of psychological harassment, and 56% and 52% respectively for physical or sexual violence and harassment, highlighting a need for a zero-tolerance approach.
The data features in a new report – Safe at Work? Global experiences of violence and harassment – which is based on the 2021 Lloyd’s Register Foundation World Risk Poll, powered by Gallup. 125,000 people across 121 countries were polled about their experiences of workplace harassment and violence, as well as the nature and frequency of it.
The report also found that, at a global level, men were fractionally more likely to report experience of workplace violence and harassment than women (22% vs 20%), though its nature varies between the sexes. While psychological harassment was found to be the most common form experienced by both men and women, it was found that for a third of women (33%) who had experienced violence or harassment, there was a sexual element (compared with for 15% of men). The survey found that men’s second most common experience was a combination of psychological and physical violence and harassment (accounting for 20% or one in five male experiences), while for women it was sexual violence and harassment.
Employers must be proactive in tackling harassment
Kate Palmer, HR Advice and Consultancy at Peninsula, points out that ultimately it is the responsibility of all employers to take proactive measures to stamp out sexual harassment in the workplace.
Palmer explained: “Sadly, sexual harassment is still a very present issue in many workplaces. In fact, recent research has found that almost three-quarters (72%) of female workers have seen or been subject to inappropriate behaviour from male colleagues in the workplace.
“A Worker Protection Bill is currently progressing through parliament which could see a duty placed on employers to take all reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment. While this is something employers should keep an eye on, it’s important to note that under the Equality Act 2010, employers can be held legally responsible if an employee is sexually harassed at work by a colleague if it is found they didn’t take all reasonable steps to prevent this from happening.
“As such, all businesses should pro-actively review their policies on sexual harassment, bullying and discrimination in the workplace and assess how aware employees are of them.”
Employee wellbeing: How to improve financial wellness at work
Financial wellbeing is an increasingly critical component of employee wellness.
Nearly a third say cost-of-living worries have negatively impacted their productivity at work, with one in eight UK workers experiencing in-work poverty.
A third of employers report a rise in demand from employees for financial wellbeing support.
But what should this look like and how can your business build an employee financial wellbeing offer that truly makes a difference?
In this free guide find out:
The impact of poor financial wellness on your business
How to assess what financial support your team needs
What types of financial support should be offered
Key considerations when shortlisting a financial wellness solution
Palmer said that, while a robust policy is the first step in preventing misconduct, organisations should also ensure they have a clear, zero-tolerance attitude towards this behaviour. Similarly, workplace training for managers and workers on how to manage, avoid and report inappropriate actions can go a long way in discouraging all forms of sexual harassment in the workplace, as can providing effective support for affected employees.
Palmer went on: “Earlier this year, the Equality and Human Rights Commission teamed up with UK Hospitality to publish a new action plan and checklist for employers, to help them stop sexual harassment in the workplace. This was created following research which found that most hospitality workers have experienced or witnessed sexual harassment, and most found it to be a “normal” part of the job in settings where alcohol is consumed.
“Employers in customer-facing sectors should also keep in mind that harassment may come from third parties so take extra steps to minimise the impact this could have on employees. Failure to adequately address inappropriate behaviours and creating a culture which does not facilitate diversity and inclusion can prove detrimental for organisations; those who don’t may risk tribunal claims, high turnover, and reduced productivity.”