McDonald’s said its two million workers at 39,000 outlets will have training to combat harassment, discrimination and violence.
"There are no short cuts to ensuring that people feel safe, respected and included at a McDonald’s restaurant. This work starts by taking big, intentional moves," said McDonald’s President and CEO Chris Kempczinski said in a statement. "Our new Global Brand Standards reinforce our commitment to living our values such that at every interaction, everyone is welcome, comfortable and safe.
"It’s really important that we be very clear: A safe and respectful workplace where people feel like they’re going to be protected is critically important for our business. It’s just what society is expecting," Kempczinski told The Associated Press.
The policy comes after at least 50 workers have filed charges against McDonald's over the past five years, alleging physical and verbal harassment and, in some cases, retaliation when they complained. In legal filings, McDonald’s workers have complained about unwanted touching, lewd comments, verbal abuse and physical assaults while at work. In certain filings, the workers accused managers of ignoring their complaints or retaliating by giving them fewer shifts or transferring them to other stores.
In November 2019, McDonald’s sacked former CEO Steve Easterbrook after he admitted having a relationship with an employee, which is in violation of company policy. In August 2020, McDonald's filed a lawsuit against Easterbrook, accusing him of lying about the number and extent of his relationships with subordinate employees and seeking to recover his severance package of more than US$40 million. The company claimed Easterbrook had sexual relationships with three women in the year before he was fired.
The new Brand Standards cover harassment, discrimination and retaliation prevention; workplace violence prevention; restaurant employee feedback; and health and safety.
Kempczinski, who joined McDonald’s in 2015, told The Associated Press that the company needs to set expectations and then continually refer to them because staff turnover in restaurants can be high.
"If you’re not constantly talking about values and keeping them in the fore, if you get complacent, then perhaps they’re not as obvious to people or they’re not as inspiring as they could be," he said.
McDonald’s restaurants worldwide (of which 93 per cent are owned by franchisees) will be required to meet the new standards, which begin in January 2022. They also have to collect feedback on the store’s work environment from employees and managers, then share those results with staff. Corporate evaluations will consider whether employees feel safe, physically and emotionally.
"As employers, we have an important role to play in setting the bar high for a values-led, safe and inclusive working environment," said Mark Salebra, Chair of the US National Franchisee Leadership Alliance (which represents more than 2000 US franchisees) and franchise owner. "Our franchise community is committed to adhering to the standards and model what it means to support our employees in doing what we do best –serving our customers and communities with integrity and respect."
McDonald’s first attempted to deal with internal problems in 2018 by introducing harassment training for its US franchisees and general managers. The next year, it started a hotline for employees to report problems and opened the training program to all of its 850,000 US workers. At that time, however, the company didn’t require franchisees to provide any form of training.
Kempczinski, who became president and CEO after Easterbrook was sacked, said he thought about the company’s values during the coronavirus pandemic, which put more emphasis than ever before on the health and safety of food workers. He considered it important to expand the training and make it mandatory.
He wouldn’t say whether McDonald’s has removed any franchisees from its system due to worker-harassment charges. Often, when a franchise isn’t ensuring the safety of workers, it has other problems that can result in its dismissal from the system, he said.