McDonald’s, one of the world’s largest fast-food chains, is grappling with a series of disturbing claims as over 100 current and former employees come forward with allegations of sexual assault, harassment, racism, and bullying.

On Tuesday, the company expressed deep remorse and acknowledged its failure to address these issues adequately after the revelations from more than 100 individuals emerged.

A comprehensive investigation conducted by the BBC uncovered a range of distressing incidents, with 31 cases relating to sexual assault, 78 to sexual harassment, 18 to racism, and six to homophobia. Some of the reported incidents include a 17-year-old employee from Cheshire who accused an older colleague of using a racial slur, a former worker who claimed a senior manager at a Plymouth restaurant had choked her and groped her, and a manager in Hampshire who allegedly suggested a 16-year-old male worker exchange sexual acts for vapes.

The inquiry into working conditions at McDonald’s was initiated in February after the company entered into a legally binding agreement with the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), pledging to safeguard its employees from sexual harassment. The fast-food chain, which employs over 170,000 individuals across approximately 1,450 restaurants throughout the UK, has been striving to rebuild its corporate image following a highly publicized boardroom sex scandal and accusations of a culture permeated by late-night partying and excessive drinking.

What do the allegations entail?

Alistair Macrow, the CEO of McDonald’s in the UK, issued an apology in response to the allegations raised by more than 100 workers, both current and former, at the fast-food giant. In an interview with the BBC, Macrow acknowledged the company’s shortcomings in certain cases after engaging with numerous employees.

This wave of allegations comes four years after the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers’ Union revealed that 1,000 women had reported instances of sexual harassment and abuse while working at McDonald’s restaurants. The recently published claims by the BBC closely resemble the complaints raised by the BFAWU in 2019. Both reports assert that managers failed to address certain grievances, and rather than terminating predatory employees, they were transferred to different McDonald’s locations.

Following months of investigation, the BBC disclosed multiple accounts on Tuesday, including a case in which a worker in his late 30s directed a racial slur at a 17-year-old colleague and made inappropriate requests. Another 17-year-old female employee alleged that a senior manager had physically assaulted her by choking her and grabbing her buttocks. These incidents represent just a fraction of the numerous claims shared with the broadcaster since February, when McDonald’s committed to an agreement with the equality watchdog to enhance its handling of sexual harassment allegations.

A safe workspace?

Mr. Macrow, the CEO of McDonald’s UK and Ireland, emphasized that all 177,000 employees within the company deserve a safe, respectful, and inclusive workplace. He expressed profound apologies for instances where the company fell short, stating unequivocally that there is no place for harassment, abuse, or discrimination of any kind at McDonald’s. Macrow pledged to thoroughly investigate all allegations and enforce severe consequences, including dismissal, for any proven breaches of the company’s code of conduct. McDonald’s UK committed to a zero-tolerance approach to harassment earlier this year in collaboration with the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, implementing comprehensive training programs, introducing new policies, and establishing strict reporting procedures to provide the highest level of workplace protection for its employees.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission confirmed that McDonald’s had made legally binding commitments, including conducting an anonymous survey among workers to gauge workplace safety and enhancing policies to prevent and address sexual harassment. The commission emphasized that under the Equality Act 2010, employers bear legal responsibility if an employee experiences sexual harassment from another employee, unless all reasonable measures were taken to prevent such incidents.

In response to the situation, the Equality and Human Rights Commission has set up a confidential email hotline, allowing those affected to report incidents of harassment in McDonald’s by contacting mcdonalds@equalityhumanrights.com.

 

 

 

 

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Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.