McDonald's faces mounting harassment allegations: legal considerations for the hospitality sector
In light of recent reports by the BBC highlighting allegations of harassment and abuse at McDonald's, the fast-food giant finds itself under scrutiny once again. The claims, which include instances of sexual assault, harassment, racism, and bullying, have prompted widespread concern and calls for action. This article explores the legal considerations arising from these allegations and the impact of the Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Act 2023.
Whether it’s from members of the public or from within an organisation’s own workforce, violence and harassment against employees is without doubt a growing issue for consumer-facing businesses.
The exposure that employees have to violence and intimidating behaviour is highlighted by the British Retail Consortium which says that almost 900 incidents occur in shops every day. In addition to these stark statistics, we’re also now seeing announcements from Tesco and Lidl about equipping staff with body cameras.
Adding to what has become a very depressing picture are the allegations that continue to emerge within the UK’s largest fast-food restaurant.
I previously wrote about claims of harassment against McDonald’s when the Worker Protection Act was still going through parliament. Now that it has received Royal Assent and scheduled to come into force in October 2024, it seems timely to remind businesses about what it means for them.
This new Act aims to enhance the protections available to employees in the workplace, specifically harassment by other employees.
Under the Worker Protection Act, employers will be required to take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment. While the Act may not explicitly address third-party harassment as originally intended, it still places a duty on employers to proactively address and prevent sexual harassment within the workplace.
Employers will need to consider the implications of the Worker Protection Act in its final form as it will require employers to take a proactive approach to prevent sexual harassment. It is crucial for employers to review and update their Dignity at Work and harassment policies, raise awareness amongst employees, and address any wider workplace culture issues that may contribute to harassment.
In appropriate cases, employers may need to conduct internal or independent investigations to address workplace culture issues and take demonstrable action based on the findings. It is crucial for employers to prioritise the wellbeing of their employees and create a safe and respectful work environment.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission plans to issue guidance for employers on compliance with the new obligations under the Worker Protection Act. This guidance will provide further clarity on the steps employers should take to prevent sexual harassment and ensure compliance with the Act.
For businesses that operate in a similar way to McDonald’s, and many other fast-food businesses, it’s worth reiterating the importance of regularly auditing the people obligations within franchise agreements.
Ensuring that franchisees’ people practices are of high quality is essential, not only to protect the brand's reputation but also to prioritise the wellbeing of employees within those businesses. As stated before, merely providing basic training is the bare minimum requirement, as relying solely on e-learning is unlikely to be sufficient.
Franchise operators should also consider implementing additional measures, such as establishing a clear process for making complaints, conducting regular audits, and creating employee forums to foster open communication. Furthermore, empowering staff to refuse service to individuals who are rude or engage in harassment, with the full support of their managers, is essential. By upholding these practices, businesses can create a safe and respectful working environment for their employees.
How we can help
We have a range of EDI related resources available for employers and employees. These cover a range of topics including bullying and harassment in the workplace training. To find out more about this and other training, visit our website here. Alternatively, please get in touch with one of our ESG specialists by phone - 0161 259 0864 or email.
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