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 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 have been reported.
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.
It does not include chains in Ireland or overseas, such as in the US.
Such measures include communicating a “zero tolerance” approach to sexual harassment, to provide anti-harassment training for its employees, and to improve policies to better respond to complaints.
Alistair Macrow, chief executive of McDonald’s in UK and Ireland, said the company already has a “strong track record” in this area but wants to further improve it.
“As one of the UK’s leading employers, the safety and wellbeing of our people is our absolute priority,” he 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.”
Mr Macrow stressed that harassment and abuse “have no place in our society or at McDonald’s”.
In 2021, McDonald’s said it would require workers around the world to undergo anti-harassment training after it emerged that at least 50 employees globally had filed charges against the chain over the previous five years.
The charges alleged physical and verbal harassment and, in some cases, retaliation when they complained.
Workers in several US cities staged a strike in 2018 to protest against the fast-food giant’s alleged failure to prevent sexual harassment at work.
Meanwhile, in the UK, the BFAWU has previously raised the alarm over a “toxic culture” in restaurants and stated that at least 1,000 women have been harassed by managers and supervisors.
Ian Hodson, national president of the BFAWU, said: “It’s shameful that one of the richest corporations on the planet doesn’t take sexual harassment seriously until we raise it.
“I pay tribute to all our members who have spoken out on this issue and encourage McDonald’s to work with us in ending sexual harassment.”
The EHRC says it is responsible for enforcing the Equality Act 2010, which makes employers legally responsible if an employee is sexually harassed at work by a colleague, and the employer has not taken all steps they could to prevent it from happening.
The group has been behind similar agreements with the likes of Sainsbury’s, which it started working with in 2019 after a member of staff won an employment tribunal claim for sexual harassment.
The supermarket chose to work with the regulator as an alternative to being investigated, the EHRC said.
EHRC chairwoman Baroness Kishwer Falkner 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.
“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.”