Working at McDonald’s was “one of the worst experiences of my life”, Christine recalls, while looking back on the seven years at the fast food giant which ended, she claims, with her being sexually harassed by a manager.
Having just moved to London, she started working at McDonald’s in 2011, thinking “it would be really great”. Now, she says, “I had no idea what I was walking into.”
She described a South London branch’s toxic workplace culture to the BBC, where she claims managers flirted with junior staff, touched “everyone’s bum” and said “inappropriate things”.
The publishing of the allegations bring focus back to fast food chain as it faces an apparent wave of sexual harassment claims—and continued reverberations from the 2019 ouster of its previous CEO over inappropriate workplace relationships.
The stockroom incident
For Christine, things went from bad to worse when in 2018, she says, she was sexually harassed in the stockroom by a manager.
Feeling unwell, Christine went to the stockroom to ask for a manager’s permission to head home but was instead met with “really inappropriate sexual suggestions”.
“He pulled his pants down in the stockroom and wanted me to do inappropriate things,” she said while adding that she wasn’t “comfortable” with the advances and that the experience left her “terrified”.
Christine said she walked out and raised a complaint with her business manager.
But she was told to “get back in the kitchen and work with him” after the business manager spoke to the man in question. When she objected, she was told to call the police. “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 manager in question is still employed there.
Union says McDonald’s swept complaints under the carpet
McDonald’s said the experiences described by Christine were “completely unacceptable and have no place in our restaurants”.
McDonald’s added in a statement to Fortune: “We work hard to create a positive work environment and culture. The safety of our teams and customers is our absolute priority. We have an open door policy, and encourage all employees to speak up if they have any concerns of any kind – we have a People Services Helpdesk and an Employee Assistance phone line, both of which can be contacted anonymously.”
The total number of sexual harassment complaints made by McDonald’s workers in the U.K. is unclear.
But four years ago, union officials at the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU) said they had received at least 1,000 from women claiming that they had been abused by fellow workers.
In 2019, BFAWU officials said that the company had “swept under the carpet” complaints of sexual harassment. They added that workers had been “victimized” for lodging complaints and that some had been paid compensation on the condition that they signed non-disclosure agreements.
Concerns about the inadequate processes to deal with the allegations were raised by employees via the union, causing the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to get involved.
As a result, McDonald’s has 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”.
As part of the agreement that was announced today (Feb. 8), the fast food giant has committed to a number of measures including anti-harassment training for employees and the introduction of training for managers to “identify areas of risks” and to “take steps to prevent sexual harassment”.
Now the equality watchdog is monitoring McDonald’s to ensure it is complying with the law. Meanwhile, it is taking action to require the U.S. business—where there have also been sexual harassment allegations by workers over the years—to sign a similar agreement.
Former CEO fined over relationship
Revelations come in the wake of the company’s ouster of its last chief executive for violating its policies on work relationships.
Just last month, former Mcdonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook was fined $400,000 by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for “concealing the extent of his misconduct” over sexual relationships with more junior employees.
McDonald’s fired the British-born boss in 2019 for violating its policies on work relationships, after discovering he had a consensual relationship with an employee.
At the time, the board ruled he was axed without cause, entitling him to over $40 million in compensation, benefits and stock, as part of a “separation agreement”
The company claimed he denied having any other affairs “physical or non-physical” with McDonald’s workers. But further investigation after a tip-off uncovered hidden relationships with other staff members, including emails and messages with nude photos and videos confirming affairs with at least two other employees.
The chain accused Easterbrook of trying to cover his tracks by deleting the intimate images from his inbox, but they still existed on the firm’s email servers.
As a result, McDonald’s decided to sue him to recover the full severance package he received.
The SEC announced in January that it had “charged” McDonald’s former CEO and president with making “false and misleading statements to investors about the circumstances leading to his termination”.
The regulator said Easterbrook and McDonald’s were not honest with investors about the reason that led to Easterbrook’s termination, and this “allowed him to retain substantial equity compensation that otherwise would have been forfeited”.
Easterbrook has agreed to pay the $400,000 penalty, without admitting or denying the claims.
Before his shortfall, Easterbrook who grew up in Watford, Hertfordshire was dubbed the “Wizard from Watford” for doubling McDonald’s share value during his tenure.
He helmed the company from March 2015 to November 2019, after previously leading its U.K. operations. During that time, he was also hailed for revitalizing the chain’s menus, remodeling stores and using better ingredients.
This story was originally featured on Fortune.com
More from Fortune:
Olympic legend Usain Bolt lost $12 million in savings to a scam. Only $12,000 remains in his account
Meghan Markle’s real sin that the British public can’t forgive–and Americans can’t understand
‘It just doesn’t work.’ The world’s best restaurant is shutting down as its owner calls the modern fine dining model ‘unsustainable’
Bob Iger just put his foot down and told Disney employees to come back into the office