February 22, 2023
McDonald’s has made headlines in recent weeks for fairly unappetising reasons. The global fast-food giant has faced a flurry of sexual harassment claims, in addition to allegations that McDonald’s failed to appropriately handle claims. As a result, McDonald’s has been forced to sign a section 23 agreement with the Equality and Human Rights Commission in response to complaints over the handling of reports of sexual harassment made by staff in the UK.
Below we tackle what it all means, the purpose of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and the necessity for employers to tackle sexual harassment claims head on.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is the regulatory body responsible for enforcing the Equality Act 2010. A section 23 agreement is a legally binding agreement which can make organisations reduce discrimination, and usually include an action plan and set timeframe in which to deliver change.
Under the section 23 agreement, McDonald's has committed to:
Sexual harassment is, unfortunately, common in industries with typically low wages and where zero hours contracts are routinely used (meaning that workers rely on the good will of their managers in order to get work). The Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union, which represents McDonald's workers, has claimed that McDonalds has been using non-disclosure agreements to deal with allegations of sexual harassment in its restaurants (although McDonald's has not commented on the alleged use of NDAs).
Under the Equality Act, employers are legally responsible for sexual harassment at work if the employer has not taken all steps that they reasonably could to prevent the harassment from happening. While allegations of sexual harassment can often be resolved, there are cases where it is better for all parties for the employment relationship to end. In these cases, settlement agreements are often used, but employers should take care with the wording of any confidentiality obligations contained in the agreement, as it is unlawful to seek to prevent an individual from reporting wrongdoing.
Employers should take active steps to prevent sexual harassment from happening in the workplace and should not assume that no reporting means that there is no harassment occurring (as there are many barriers to employees reporting sexual harassment at work). While policies and training are good steps towards preventing sexual harassment in the workplace, employers should be actively considering any specific areas of risk in their business and taking steps to address any potential issues.
Sexual harassment is the last thing an employer wants to consider when it comes to their workplace, and yet, its an unfortunately common practice in the working world. Wondering how you can safeguard your team and your business? Check out our sexual harassment guide for employers. Alternatively, if you need some bespoke support, discover how we support HR and people teams.