An Illinois court issued a preliminary injunction against McDonald’s Wednesday, ruling that McDonald’s isn’t doing enough to protect employees amid the COVID pandemic.

The preliminary injunction mandates that three McDonald’s restaurants in Chicago must improve their safety training and provide stricter enforcement of their rules. McDonald’s Corporate and McDonald’s USA can’t be enjoined because they don’t own any of the restaurants at issue in the suit.

The case, filed May 19 by five McDonald’s employees and their family members, accuses McDonald’s and franchise owners of “failing to take important steps to contain the virus, such as providing adequate protective equipment, hand sanitizer, and safety training for employees, or enforcing safety protocols.” The document further states that stores are disregarding expert recommendations and government guidance on how to protect workers and customers from spread of disease.

Judge Eve Reilly of Cook County Circuit Court wrote that while McDonald’s has good intentions, its practices aren’t being carried out properly, which is endangering the health of employees. 

“The hardship McDonald’s would suffer by strictly enforcing its mask policy and retraining employees on proper social distancing procedures is slight,” Reilly wrote in her court order. “Now, McDonald’s may need to re-envision how it wants to implement the policy so as to ensure full compliance, but that is for McDonald’s to decide. The potential risk of harm to these Plaintiffs and the community at large is severe. It may very well be a matter of life or death to individuals who come in contact with these restaurants or employees of these restaurants on a regular, or even semi-regular basis, during the COVID-19 pandemic. And while there are many individuals who believe the pandemic is no longer a threat, science and medical research indicate otherwise. There is a long road to recovery for all of us. The balance of equities therefore leans in favor of the injunction.”

Reilly said McDonald’s took several steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as providing PPE, taking temperatures, doing wellness checks, and placing Plexiglas barriers at the front counter and drive-thru.

But the judge added there are two “serious failures,” including incorrect social distancing training and a failure to enforce the mask wearing policy. The order claims McDonald’s led employees and managers to believe they can take off their masks and stand within 6 feet of each other as long as it’s not for more than 10 minutes.

“This potentially hazardous combination contradicts the Governor’s Executive Order and Illinois public safety guidelines on social distancing, which require people to maintain a 6-foot distance from each other or wear a mask,” the ruling states. “… This increases the health risk for the employees, their families and the public as a whole and conflicts with the Governor’s Order on social distancing potentially undoing any good it has done as we fight this incredibly contagious disease.”

Daniel Rosenthal, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said the preliminary injunction proves that McDonal’s didn’t keep workers safe during the pandemic, which “posed danger to public health, particularly when it came to social distancing and masks.”

“We are pleased that Judge Reilly issued an injunction that will not only help keep workers safe, but will also protect workers’ families, McDonald’s customers, and the community at large,” Rosenthal said in a statement. “Coupled with the temporary restraining order issued against a McDonald’s restaurant in Oakland yesterday, this decision shows that companies like McDonald’s cannot get away with creating a public nuisance.”

McDonald’s said it was pleased that the court found that “strong measures are already in place across these Chicagoland restaurants to create a safe experience for customers and crew.”

“These measures are part of the 50 processes we have enhanced during the pandemic to keep restaurant employees and customers safe,” the fast-food chain said in a statement. “We have also issued a 59-page guide outlining national minimum restaurant standards, including adhering to social distancing guidelines for customers and crew, conducting wellness and temperature checks, requiring protective barriers, face masks and gloves, increasing the frequency of handwashing and providing contactless purchasing options to customers.”

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