McDonald’s to Conduct Workplace Review after Sexual Harassment Allegations

    The CEO said the chain will gather feedback and define a set of ‘Global Brand Standards.’

    Fast Food | March 2, 2021 | Ben Coley
    McDonald's fries package on a gravel background.
    Unsplash/Lucas van Oort
    In a survey of 800 female McDonald’s workers last year, 75 percent said they were sexually harassed at work, according to CBS.

    McDonald’s is conducting a review of its policies and programs around workplace safety after women reported detailed sexual harassment allegations in a CBS News investigation.

    The CBS report, which came out Sunday morning, described the abusive experiences of four employees who’ve either filed discrimination charges or lawsuits against the fast-food chain.

    When retelling her manager’s behavior, Kat Barber told CBS, “Any woman that he could get his hands on or be near, he was taking advantage of that moment.” She said telling him to stop would only make him persist and the general manager either laughed or told her she was being dramatic.

    Emily Anibal, who worked under the same manager, said she had to deal with the behavior “pretty much every shift, for most of the shift.” The former employees noted "that was kind of the environment I think that was built at that restaurant, is that, 'This is normal. And if you don't like it, then you can leave.’”

    In response, McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczsinski published an open letter, writing that “every single person working under the Arches must have a safe and respectful work environment,” and sexual harassment won’t be tolerated.

    In pursuit of creating a better environment, Kempczsinski asked for a review of current policies and programs around workplace safety, conducted by McDonald’s U.S. President Joe Erlinger, International President Ian Borden, Global Chief People Officer Heidi Capozzi, and Chief Global Impact Officer Katie Fallon. The CEO said McDonald’s intends to understand current best practices, gather feedback from franchisees and crew members, and define a set of “Global Brand Standards” that it can communicate later in 2021.

    “As the largest restaurant brand and one of the most recognized brands in the world, we know that we face added scrutiny for our values and actions,” Kempczsinski said in the letter. “We should all welcome that scrutiny.  It makes us better and ensures that we continue to maintain the highest standards for our System.”

    In a survey of 800 female McDonald’s workers last year, 75 percent said they were sexually harassed at work, according to CBS. Seventy-one percent said they suffered consequences for reporting the behavior. CBS reported a company spokesman refuted the findings, and argued the sample size was too small and that it wasn’t representative of what’s being seen as McDonald’s stores.

    Gillian Thomas, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, told the news outlet hundreds of women have been subjected to discrimination and harassment at McDonald’s. She added many of the victims are teenagers and, “The food service industry generally is one of the worst for sexual harassment claims.”

    Kempczinski said the chain takes these allegations seriously and the brand must ensure every accusation is investigated thoroughly. He also noted no one should feel hesitant to speak out if they see something that’s out of line with McDonald’s values.

    "Far from shying away from them, in the case of the sexual harassment allegations detailed in the CBS Sunday Morning story, I want to recognize these individuals and acknowledge their courage,” Kempczsinski said. “Any person who steps forward to report concerns or issues deserves our utmost respect.”

    In addition to sexual harassment lawsuits, McDonald’s has also dealt with a series of racial discrimination complaints in the past year. One lawsuit was brought forth by former MLB player Herb Washington, who accused McDonald’s of “deplorable treatment” as compared to his white counterparts. Washington, along with numerous current and former operators, have alleged that McDonald’s intentionally pushes Black franchisees toward impoverished neighborhoods where their chances of success are lower.