- By Noor Nanji, Zoe Conway & Ellie Layhe
- BBC News
A toxic culture of sexual assault, harassment, racism and bullying has been alleged by more than 100 current and recent UK employees at McDonald’s fast food chain stores.
The BBC has learned that the workers, some as young as 17, are being groped and harassed almost regularly.
The UK’s equality watchdog said it was “concerned” by the BBC’s findings and was rolling it out new email hotline.
McDonald’s said it was “flawed” and “deeply apologetic”.
It adds that all employees deserve to work in a safe, respectful and inclusive workplace.
The BBC began investigating working conditions at McDonald’s in February, after the company signed a legally binding agreement with the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), which pledged to protect employees. themselves from being sexually harassed.
At the time, McDonald’s asserted: “We have a long track record in this area.”
But our investigation has revealed a very different picture.
Of the more than 100 allegations from employees we spoke with, 31 related to sexual assault and 78 related to sexual harassment.
We also heard 18 accusations of racism, while six made homophobic allegations.
Warning – this post contains distressing content
Complaints the BBC has heard include:
- A 17-year-old current employee in Cheshire said a colleague 20 years older than her called her racially abusive language and asked to show her his penis, saying he wanted to gave birth to a “black and white” child with her
- A 17-year-old former worker when a senior manager at a restaurant in Plymouth choked and grabbed her butt. A shift manager also sent her pornographic images
- A manager in Hampshire offered a 16-year-old male worker to perform sexual acts in exchange for vapes
- A manager hunted 16-year-old female employees in a restaurant in Cheshire, trying to pressure them into having sex.
- A woman says she was called a vulgar word and was the subject of racist jokes at a branch in Aberdeen
- A current worker in Essex says she faces anti-Semitic abuse
- A worker now working in Oxfordshire, of Indian descent, said crew members spoke “silly” to imitate her and called a Pakistani colleague a terrorist.
- Male managers and crew members at a branch in Wales make jokes about cashing bets on which of them can sleep with a rookie first
- Gonorrhea outbreak at a branch in Northern Ireland, where sex between employees is common
Many workers told us that McDonald’s managers in stores across the UK were held accountable for incidents of harassment and assault.
It is often assumed that senior managers have failed to address complaints.
Employees have also told the BBC about sexual relationships between managers and subordinates, which is against company policy.
The young women described feeling constantly judged for their appearance.
One current worker said she was considered “fresh meat” by her male colleagues when she started working at her branch in Nottingham. Other female workers told us that they were forced by their management to wear a uniform that was too tight.
“There’s a saying at McDonald’s, ‘tits on tills’ – boys in the kitchen, girls on the counter. The idea is to put attractive people first,” said Lucy, 22, who works in Norwich. .
Emily, 20, added: “People assume that if you work at McDonald’s, you will be harassed. She left her branch in Brighton last year after a male colleague in his 60s repeatedly stroked her hair in a sexually suggestive manner and made love. she felt uncomfortable.
McDonald’s is one of the UK’s largest private sector employers. The fast food giant has more than 170,000 people working in 1,450 restaurants.
Its employees are also among the youngest in the country. Three-quarters of their employees are between the ages of 16 and 25. For many, it’s their first job.
Most workers are not directly employed by the company because McDonald’s uses a franchise system, which means licensed individual operators run the stores and recruit employees.
‘I went to work in fear’
Shelby was just 16 years old when she started working at a McDonald’s restaurant in Berkshire last year.
She said older male colleagues will use the cramped layout of the kitchen as an excuse to inappropriately touch female subordinates.
“They would feel their stomachs, their waists, their butts,” she said. “Every shift of mine, at least one comment will be made, or I’ll get brushed, a hand goes over my body, or it’ll be something more serious, like being grabbed on the butt, grab the hip.”
In particular, there was one man in his 50s whose managers “warned” young employees to stay away, Shelby said.
One day last summer, she said she was standing at the front counter when he came up behind her and grabbed her, pulling her into his crotch.
“I just froze,” she said. “I feel disgusted.”
Shelby said she told senior management about what was going on in the store, but nothing was done. In her resignation email, she said it was a “toxic work environment”.
McDonald’s said it was “deeply sorry” to learn of Shelby’s experience. It added that they were investigating why any issues she raised were not formally escalated at the time.
Managers turn a blind eye
Some workers we spoke to said, like Shelby, they reported harassment and assault, but that was ignored.
In the case of Chinyere, 17, of Cheshire, who was sexually harassed and racist by a much older man, she initially raised the issue with a female colleague responsible for welfare. employee benefits. She told her to ignore the man’s behavior and get back to work. After months of harassment, Chinyere confided in her stepfather, who had written to the franchise, to corporate headquarters and the police.
The man was later fired. Chinyere believes that if her stepfather had not intervened, nothing would have happened. McDonald’s described her experiences as “disgusting and unacceptable” and apologetic emphatically. It said it took swift action as soon as the matter came to light and the man was fired within three days. They added: “It took a lot of courage to speak up and as soon as we became aware of the situation the individual in question was supported both internally and externally independently.”
Another Birmingham worker, who said she was spanked by a male colleague when she was 19, immediately reported it to her manager. But even though it was caught on camera and she had obvious bruises, she was forced to continue working with him, which annoyed her to the point of eventually quitting.
Some workers also said that when there is a complaint about the manager, they will be transferred from one McDonald’s restaurant to another McDonald’s restaurant rather than fired.
Other employees said they weren’t complaining because they couldn’t risk losing their jobs. Young workers at McDonald’s often have zero-hour contracts – which means their work hours are flexible, but they’re also at the mercy of shift managers who decide their rotations .
What to do if you are sexually harassed at work
- Report it: Charity organization Victim support indicate that you can report to a manager, human resources representative or union, who will take action.
- Keep a record: Include the date, time, and details of what happened, as well as any relevant emails. These can be helpful if you decide to report.
- Get help: Victim Support operates a free and secure 24/7 helpline and live chat service. Call 0808 16 89 111 or live chat at: victimsupport.org.uk/live-chat.
- Call the police: If sexual harassment escalates to violence, threats or sexual assault, you should call the police by calling 101. If you are in danger, call 999.
Training ‘not taken seriously’
In the February agreement, McDonald’s committed to “zero tolerance” for sexual harassment and provided training for employees.
But staff have told the BBC that training is not taken seriously by managers.
One employee described sitting on an iPad next to a McFlurry machine and scrolling through a harassment training video while he made a drink.
Baron Kishwer Falkner, president of the EHRC, said every company should not tolerate sexual harassment and protect its workforce.
Its CEO, Steve Easterbrook, was fired in 2019 after it was revealed he had an inappropriate consensual relationship with McDonald’s employees.
The allegations of sexual harassment at McDonald’s first surfaced in the UK five years ago when the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU) said it had received 1,000 complaints. There were very few reports of allegations at the time – this may be because some cases were resolved on confidentiality terms.
Sarah Woolley, general secretary of the BFAWU, said the new allegations uncovered by the BBC were “shocking”.
Alistair Macrow, chief executive of McDonald’s UK & Ireland, said there was “simply no place for harassment, abuse or discrimination” at the company.
“Every single one of McDonald’s UK’s 177,000 employees deserves to work in a safe, respectful and inclusive workplace. There were clearly instances where we fell short and we deeply apologize. sorry about that,” he told the BBC.
“We will investigate all allegations brought to us and all proven violations of our code of conduct will be met with the most severe measures we can. may lawfully impose, up to and including dismissal.”
Mr Macrow said more than 2,000 managers have completed full awareness training and most restaurant groups are now working within the framework of new safeguards aimed at creating “a safe and healthy workplace”. respect”. He added that the company has strict rules in place to ensure workplaces around the world are safe and respected.
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Additional reporting by George Dabby.