McDonald’s manager ‘exposed himself in front of me’
Christine was working at a South London branch of McDonald’s in 2018 when, she says, she was sexually harassed by a manager.
“He pulled his pants down in the stockroom,” she said, adding the experience left her “terrified”.
Her story comes after McDonald’s signed an agreement with the UK equality watchdog following concerns over how it handled sexual harassment complaints.
McDonald’s said Christine’s experiences were “completely unacceptable”.
“We are extremely concerned to hear these allegations,” a spokesperson said. “We would encourage them to contact us directly so we can investigate immediately.”
The number of complaints of sexual harassment made by McDonald’s workers in the UK is unclear, but four years ago the union representing the company’s employees, the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU), said it had received 1,000 of them.
Concerns were raised by employees via the union about inadequate processes to deal with the allegations, which led the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to get involved.
The fast food giant has now signed a legal agreement with the EHRC to protect staff from sexual harassment. The EHRC told the BBC that it did “not enter into agreements lightly”.
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Christine, who has waived her right to anonymity, started working at McDonald’s in 2011, having just moved to London. She told the BBC she “thought it would be really great”, but added “I had no idea what I was walking into”.
She described a toxic workplace culture, with managers flirting with more junior staff, and another manager going around “touching everyone’s bum”.
“I saw a lot of things that were not okay,” she said.
She described how one manager regularly came up to her and said “inappropriate things”.
What to do if you have been sexually harassed at work
If you experience sexual harassment at work, charity Victim Support says you can report it to your manager, HR representative or trade union who will take action.
It recommends keeping a record of your experiences of harassment, including dates, times and details of what happened, as well as any emails you send or receive relating to the harassment. These could be helpful if you decide to report it.
Victim Support operates a free and confidential 24/7 helpline and live chat service, providing specialist support to anyone who has been harassed. The telephone number is 0808 16 89 111 and the live chat is available at: victimsupport.org.uk/live-chat.
If sexual harassment escalates into violence, threats or sexual assault, you should report this to the police by calling 101. If you are in danger, call 999.
Christine tried to manage the situation by asking colleagues to intervene. She then said she started suffering anxiety and panic attacks, and started taking anti-depressants “just to cope with going into work”.
“How do you expect to work when you’re having a panic attack? You can’t breathe, your heart’s racing and you’re terrified,” she said.
“You don’t want this person to come up to you doing or saying anything. You would assume that they get the message when you say no, but they just think it’s okay. They don’t see what they’re doing to you.”
‘Inappropriate sexual suggestions’
Things took a turn for the worse one day in 2018, when she was feeling unwell and went into the stockroom to ask the manager’s permission to go home.
“He started making really inappropriate sexual suggestions that I wasn’t comfortable with,” she said. “He pulled his pants down in the stockroom and wanted me to do inappropriate things.”
Christine said she walked out and went to her business manager to raise a complaint, but after the business manager spoke to the man in question, she was told to “get back in the kitchen and work with him”.
When she objected, the business manager told her to call the police if she had such a problem.
“So I was like, fine. I packed up my stuff and went home,” she said.
Christine never worked at McDonald’s again, although she claims the man is still employed there.
She described her time working at the fast food chain as “one of the worst experiences of my life”.
“You should not have to go into work feeling anxious or scared…you need that job to pay your bills and to keep a house going but at what price.”
McDonald’s said the experiences described by Christine were “completely unacceptable and have no place in our restaurants”.
It said the safety of its teams and customers was an “absolute priority” and that it encouraged “all employees to speak up if they have any concerns of any kind”.
Ranjit O’Mahony of Thompsons Solicitors, which has worked with the union on sexual harassment complaints, said that any cases it had handled on behalf of BFAWU had been “settled with a confidentiality clause at McDonald’s insistence”.
She said that the firm “wash their hands of legal liability if they possibly can by passing the buck to local managers, and the franchise system they operate for the stores enables them to do so”.
The equality watchdog will now monitor McDonald’s to check if it is complying with the law. If it finds evidence it is not, it will investigate.
As part of the agreement, McDonald’s has committed to a number of measures including communicating a zero tolerance approach to sexual harassment and providing anti-harassment training for staff.
Baroness Kishwer Falkner, chairwoman of the EHRC, said that by signing this agreement, McDonald’s had shown its intent to make its restaurants “safe places to work”.
Alistair Macrow, chief executive of McDonald’s Restaurants Limited in UK and Ireland, said he welcomed the “opportunity to work with the EHRC”.
But Sarah Woolley, general secretary at the BWAFU, said she didn’t have “a lot of confidence” that the agreement would change the culture at McDonald’s and said the union didn’t believe complainants had been consulted on “how they believe the problem should be fixed”.
There have been sexual harassment allegations by workers at McDonald’s US restaurants over several years.
In 2019, Steve Easterbrook was fired as chief executive of McDonald’s after it found he had had a consensual relationship with an employee, with the firm stating he had “violated company policy”.
Further investigation uncovered hidden relationships with other staff members and in January, he was fined by the US financial watchdog for misleading investors about his firing in 2019.
Mr Easterbrook agreed to pay a $400,000 (£330,000) penalty, without admitting or denying the claims.
The fast food giant prohibits “any kind of intimate relationship between employees in a direct or indirect reporting relationship”.
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Ex-McDonald’s boss fined after staff relationship
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