Describing the toxic work environment in many British McDonald’s restaurants seems quite mild. Five months of investigation by the BBC revealed a shocking list of claims of sexual harassment, racism, and anti-Semitism in the fast-food chain’s branches across the country. More than a hundred current and former employees have come forward to the British broadcaster, stating that they have been victims of misconduct within the company.
For instance, a 17-year-old employee at a branch in Cheshire was allegedly first racially abused by a colleague twenty years her senior. Later, the same colleague reportedly asked her if he could show her his penis because he wanted to have a “black and white” baby with her.
In another incident, a colleague in Essex was reportedly subjected to anti-Semitic treatment. In Oxfordshire, employees allegedly called a Pakistani colleague a “terrorist.” In Plymouth, a manager was said to have not only grabbed a 17-year-old female employee’s buttocks but also her throat. A 16-year-old girl from Berkshire claims that she was touched inappropriately almost every shift in the busy restaurant kitchen. The breaking point came when a colleague in his fifties grabbed her from behind and pressed her against his crotch.
The company has offered “deep apologies” and admits that there have been clear cases in which they fell short in their responsibilities. McDonald’s in the UK agreed to be investigated by the BBC after signing an agreement with the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to protect its staff from sexual harassment. McDonald’s had previously expressed confidence in having a strong track record in this area.
In many cases, it appears that internal complaints from employees were not properly addressed. Now, the McDonald’s top management in the UK states that the company will thoroughly investigate all claims. They promise that any proven violation of their code of conduct will be punished with the strictest measures they can legally impose, including dismissal.
McDonald’s is one of the largest private employers in the UK, with 170,000 people working in nearly 1500 restaurants across the country. Three-quarters of the employees are between 16 and 25 years old, and for many, it is their first work experience.
It’s worth noting that many employees are not directly employed by McDonald’s but work in franchised restaurants, which can hire their staff independently. However, the BBC reports that when complaints of misconduct were received, the accused managers were usually not fired but transferred to another nearby franchised restaurant.
Additionally, many employees have said that they did not report the misconduct because they feared being given fewer working hours or losing income as they often work on zero-hours contracts.