Bishop & Sewell

The fast-food restaurant chain Mcdonald’s is under fire following widespread allegations of a toxic working culture. The company’s CEO has been quick to respond as he faces calls to terminate franchise deals.

A BBC investigation first published on 17 July reports a toxic culture of assault, harassment, racism and bullying by more than 100 staff at its restaurants across the UK. The claims, which make distressing reading, include workers as young as 17 being routinely “groped” and “harassed”.

The investigation by the BBC follows McDonald’s signing a legally binding agreement with the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) pledging to ‘protect its staff from sexual harassment’. At the time, Mcdonald’s said “We already have a strong track record in this area.”

Mcdonald’s is a large employer in the UK with 177,000 people working across its 1,450 restaurants. Its staff, the BBC points out, is one of the country’s youngest workforces, with three-quarters of its staff aged between 16 and 25. For many, it is their first paid job.

It should, of course, be recognised that most of this workforce are not employed directly by Mcdonald’s but by its franchise operators, often on zero-hours contracts.

McDonald’s demands its franchisees sign detailed agreements that require them to “comply with UK law” and with the ability to terminate franchise agreements should they fail to meet agreed standards.

A McDonald’s spokesperson told the BBC: “Within our standards we specifically include People Brand Standards to ensure restaurants are operated in accordance with UK law in a manner that creates a safe, respectful, inclusive workplace and includes regular training and monitoring on prevention of harassment, discrimination and workplace violence.”

The BBC investigation suggests that those standards are not being met.

McDonald’s CEO Alister Macrow has been quick to apologise to its workforce saying “every one of the 177,000 employees in McDonald’s UK deserves to work in a safe, respectful and inclusive workplace. There are clearly instances where we have fallen short and for that we deeply apologise.

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.”

A zero-tolerance and consistent approach to sexual harassment in the workplace is the only right approach if employees are to feel safe.

Employers need clear and robust harassment policies and these policies should be “lived”. Paying lip service alone to a policy is not enough nor is apologising after the event.


Contact our Employment Solicitors

Rhian Radia is a Partner and Head of the Bishop & Sewell Employment team. For initial advice or to arrange a meeting the Employment team, please email or call on 020 7631 4141

The above is accurate as at 26 July 2023. The information above may be subject to change.

The content of this note should not be considered legal advice and each matter should be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Category: Blog, News | Date: 26th Jul 2023

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