McDonald’s workers speak out over sexual abuse claims

"Toxic culture allegations at McDonald's UK: sexual assault, harassment, racism, and bullying exposed by BBC investigation."

More than a hundred current and former McDonald’s UK employees have spoken out against the company’s allegedly toxic culture of sexual assault, harassment, racism, and bullying.

The BBC was told that workers as young as 17 are regularly subjected to groping and other forms of sexual harassment on the job.

In response to the BBC’s findings, the UK’s equality watchdog expressed “concern” and announced the creation of an email hotline.

McDonald‘s admitted it had “fallen short” and expressed regret.

A safe, respectful, and inclusive workplace is something that all employees are entitled to, it was said.

After McDonald’s signed a legally binding agreement with the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) promising to safeguard its employees from sexual harassment, the BBC began investigating working conditions at McDonald’s in February.

According to McDonald’s at the time, “We already have a strong track record in this area.”

However, our research has uncovered contradictory evidence.

We contacted former and current McDonald’s employees over the course of five months to hear about their time there. Our interviews with more than a hundred employees revealed 31 cases of sexual assault and 78 cases of sexual harassment.

We also received six complaints of homophobia and 18 allegations of racism.

Among the claims heard by the BBC are:

  • Teenage worker in Cheshire claims her supervisor, 20 years her senior, used a racial slur, asked to see her privates, and expressed interest in having a “black and white” baby with her.
  • A senior boss at a Plymouth restaurant strangled and grabbed the bottom of a former employee when she was 17 years old. Another supervisor also gave her graphic photos.
  • A manager in Hampshire who allegedly solicited sexual favors for vapes from a male employee, 16, has been fired.
  • A manager at a restaurant in Cheshire targeted teenage female employees and tried to pressure them into sexual activity.
  • A woman who said she was the target of racial jokes and slurs at a branch in Aberdeen
  • A current Essex employee who claims to have been the target of anti-Semitic harassment
  • An Indian woman currently working in Oxfordshire claims her crewmates muttered “gibberish” in an attempt to mimic her accent and branded a Pakistani coworker a terrorist.
  • Male employees and supervisors at a Welsh location were jokingly taking bets on who would be the first to sleep with a new hire.
  • An outbreak of gonorrhea in a Northern Ireland branch where employees frequently engaged in sexual activity

Several employees told us that supervisors at McDonald’s restaurants in the United Kingdom were to blame for the assaults and harassment.

Senior management has been accused of ignoring complaints much too often.

  • Hear this: Is McDonald’s really so bad for young people?
  • MeToo hasn’t helped the young employees at McDonald’s.
  • When is it appropriate to report sexual harassment?

The BBC has also been informed by employees that bosses and subordinates have engaged in sexual relationships, despite the fact that doing so is against corporate policy.

Some young ladies report constantly being scrutinized for their appearance.

Current employee says male coworkers in Nottingham branch treated her like “fresh meat” when she first started working there. We heard from other women in the workplace that managers made them wear uniforms that were too small for them.

Boys in the kitchen, gals behind the counter; that’s the McDonald’s motto. Lucy, who is 22 and works in Norwich, stated, “The idea is to put attractive people in the front.”

“It’s the expectation that if you work at McDonald’s, you will be harassed,” Emily, 20, chimed in. After a male coworker in his sixties made her feel uncomfortable by repeatedly touching her hair in a sexually suggestive manner, she quit the Brighton branch a year ago.

McDonald’s is a major private sector employer in the United Kingdom. The fast food behemoth employs over 170,000 people across its 1,450 locations.

It also has one of the youngest workforces in the country. The majority of its staff (75%) are young adults (16-25). It’s a stepping stone to the working world for lots of people.

McDonald’s uses a franchise system in which independent operators are granted permission to establish and operate restaurants under the McDonald’s name.

‘I went to work in fear’

According to Shelby, there was one man in his 50s whom supervisors had “warned” the younger employees not to associate with.

Would you report sexual harassment or take action to stop it?

She claims that last summer he grabbed her from behind and pulled her onto his groin as she was standing at the front counter.

She finally spoke, “I just froze.” Disgust swept through me.

Shelby claims she informed upper management of the store’s problems but was met with inaction. She cited a “toxic work environment” as the reason for her resignation.

McDonald’s expressed its “deep sadness” about Shelby’s experience. It also said it was looking into why her concerns weren’t elevated formally at the time she first voiced them.

Managers turning a blind eye

The number of employees that filed formal complaints is unknown. But several of them told us they did, and their claims were disregarded.

Chinyere, a Cheshire teenager, brought up the issue of sexual and racial harassment she had experienced at the hands of an older man with a female coworker who was responsible for employee well-being. She instructed her to disregard the man’s actions and continue with her duties. Eventually, Chinyere told her stepfather about the harassment, and he wrote letters to the franchise, the corporate headquarters, and the police.

After that, the man lost his job. Chinyere thinks everything could have been avoided if her stepfather hadn’t stepped in. McDonald’s called her treatment “abhorrent and unacceptable” and apologized unequivocally for what happened. According to the company, the man was fired three days after it became aware of the problem. When asked for clarification, they said, “It takes a great deal of courage to speak up, and as soon as we were made aware of the situation, the individual in question was offered both internal and independent external support.”

Another Birmingham employee who claims she was slapped in the buttocks by a male coworker when she was 19 promptly informed her supervisor. The incident was caught on tape, and she was forced to continue working with him despite feeling quite uneasy around him.

Several employees also reported that when complaints were made against managers, the managers were transferred to a different McDonald’s within the franchise.

Workers who didn’t want to risk losing their jobs stated they didn’t complain. Zero-hour contracts are common for young workers at McDonald’s, meaning that they have some flexibility in their schedules but are ultimately at the whim of the shift supervisors who set their schedules.

What to do if you have been sexually harassed at work

  • Report it: According to the charity Victim Support, if you report it to your superiors, human resources, or trade union, they will take appropriate action.
  • Keep a record: Include pertinent emails in addition to dates, times, and descriptions of events. If you choose to file a report, they may be of assistance.
  • Get help: There is a free, anonymous hotline and chat service available round-the-clock from Victim Support. Visit or dial 0808 16 89 111 for immediate assistance.
  • Call the police: Call the police at 101 if the sexual harassment leads to physical harm, threats, or assault. In an emergency, dial 999.

Training ‘not taken seriously’

McDonald’s has committed to “zero tolerance” for sexual harassment and has agreed to provide training to its staff as part of a settlement reached in February.

However, employees have reported to the BBC that management does not take the training seriously.

In order to get through the harassment training video quickly, one worker reported propping up his iPad close to the McFlurry machine.

The EHRC’s chairwoman, Baroness Kishwer Falkner, has called for a “zero tolerance” policy toward sexual harassment and the protection of all employees.

Worldwide, McDonald’s corporate culture has come under fire. Sexual harassment claims filed by employees in the United States might cost the company millions.

After it came to light that McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook had inappropriate consensual relationships with employees, he was sacked in 2019.

The Bakers, Food, and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU) claims it received one thousand complaints of sexual harassment at McDonald’s five years ago in the United Kingdom. There was surprisingly little coverage of the charges at the time, which may have been due to secrecy terms included in settlement agreements.

The general secretary of the BFAWU, Sarah Woolley, called the fresh charges discovered by the BBC “shocking.”

There is “simply no place” for harassment, abuse, or discrimination, as stated by Alistair Macrow, CEO of McDonald’s UK & Ireland.

The 177,000 employees at McDonald’s in the United Kingdom deserve a place of employment that is free from harassment, discrimination, and retaliation. He apologized to the BBC saying, “There are clearly instances where we have fallen short and for that we deeply apologise.”

To paraphrase, “We will investigate all allegations brought to us, and all proven breaches of our code of conduct will be met with the most severe measures we can legally impose, up to and including dismissal.”

According to Mr. Macrow, the majority of restaurant teams are now operating under the new safeguards designed to ensure “a safe and respectful workplace.” This is because over 2,000 managers have completed comprehensive awareness training. He also mentioned the company’s strict guidelines for maintaining a positive and safe work environment all around the world.

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