McDonald's staff walk out amid claims HR "ignored sexual harassment"

As reported by the BBC, employees of the fast food giant have walked out in 12 major US cities, claiming that the company has "largely ignored" frontline workers who raise complaints. Activists also claimed the firm has a “culture of harassment.”

Protestors said the latest strike, which took place on October 26th, was in response to accusations that a Pittsburgh McDonalds manager sexually assaulted a 14-year-old worker on the job.

“McDonald’s STILL refuses to take responsibility for the countless women & teenagers who have endured harassment on the job at stores across the globe. This problem HAS to finally be addressed!” the activists wrote on Twitter.

Workers have now staged five walkouts since 2018 over what they described as a “culture of harassment”, during which time McDonald’s global CEO, British Steve Easterbrook was fired after it was revealed he had a relationship with an employee.

Although the relationship was consensual, Easterbrook was found to have "violated company policy" and shown "poor judgement".

And, in April 2020, the BBC also reported that two McDonald's employees in Florida filed a £400m ($500m) class action lawsuit, accusing the fast food giant of fostering "systemic sexual harassment".

Jamelia Fairley and Ashley Reddick were named on behalf of some 5,000 women from over 100 US McDonald's outlets.

Court documents revealed allegations of "extensive illegal harassment that went ignored by management". There were also claims that numerous women were subjected to "pervasive sexual harassment and a hostile work environment, including groping, sexual assault and sexually-charged comments" at their Orlando restaurant.

In a statement, McDonald's said it was committed to "thoroughly investigating" allegations at its corporate-owned restaurants, and that it expected its franchisees to "uphold a similar standard".

"Every single person working at a McDonald's restaurant deserves to feel safe and respected when they come to work, and sexual harassment and assault have no place in any McDonald's restaurant," it said.

"We know more work is needed to further our workplace ambitions, which is why all 40,000 McDonald's restaurants [worldwide] will be assessed and accountable to global brand standards.

"These standards prioritise action in multiple areas, including prevention of harassment, discrimination and retaliation."

Growing claims of sexual harassment

McDonald’s employees may not be the only ones suffering from such issues. It seems that the majority of companies are failing to instil sexual harassment training among their workforce, according to data.

A recent TalentLMS and Purple Campaign report polled over 1,200 employees, and found that 92% of women surveyed said that unwanted physical contact counts as sexual harassment, compared to 78% of men surveyed.

Suggestive remarks were considered harassment by 88% of women and just 69% of men; likewise, sexual jokes were frowned upon by 86% of women and 69% of men.

Additionally, 73% of women surveyed said comments regarding someone's gender identity and expression were sexual harassment, compared to 47% of men.

“There is still a long way to go in educating employers and employees,” said Christina Gialleli, Director of People Ops at TalentLMS, said in the research.

“With over 75% of women and 85% of men reporting they feel safer at work after having received training, it’s clear that sexual harassment training needs to be a part of every company’s yearly curriculum.”

Preventing sexual harassment

According to Acas, sexual harassment is “unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature” and the law protects employees, workers, contractors, self-employed and job applicants from this.

For this to be considered as sexual harassment, the unwanted behaviour must have either violated someone’s dignity, whether it was intended or not, or created a hostile environment for them, whether it was intended or not, the governmental body adds.

Data carried out by the Everyday Sexism Project and the Trades Union Congress (TUC) discovered that 52% of women have been victims of unwanted sexual behaviours at work - from groping to inappropriate jokes.

As such, it is crucial that employers do all that they can to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.

In a previous interview, Katie Hodson, Partner and Head of Employment at SAS Daniels LLP, told HR Grapevine that in instances of sexual harassment, employers should have “robust policies in place”.

She previously pointed out that “staff need to be clear that this behaviour is unacceptable and aware of the consequences of breaching the policies. This could be supported by staff training”.

“Further, any and all complaints should be taken seriously and investigated thoroughly. This would include asking relevant questions and looking at the evidence with a clear and unbiased viewpoint,” Hodson concluded.

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