McDonald's mandates anti-violence, harassment training for employees worldwide

(AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

Two million employees of McDonald’s worldwide will be required to participate in anti-harassment, anti-violence, and anti-discrimination training. McDonald’s President and CEO Chris Kempczinski told the Associated Press that this is “what society is expecting.” Do you want fries with that?

The worldwide outreach to provide additional, targeted personnel training is in order to provide “a safe and respectful workplace where people feel like they’re going to be protected.” There is no word yet if Mayor McCheese is participating. McDonald’s is getting pro-active in response to a small but growing increase in sexual harassment claims filed by employees of the world’s largest hamburger chain. With two million employees worldwide, the number of workers who have filed charges against the company over the last five years, 50, seems very small, but McDonald’s is also trying to clean up after former CEO Steve Easterbrook was fired in 2019. He acknowledged having a relationship with an employee.

Kempczinski, a McDonald’s employee since 2015, said the company needs to set higher expectations of employees. Staff turnover is high in the fast-food business so he expects higher expectations to be a constant in its corporate culture.

“If you’re not constantly talking about values and keeping them in the fore, if you get complacent, then perhaps they’re not as obvious to people or they’re not as inspiring as they could be,” he said.

McDonald’s restaurants worldwide — 93% of which are owned by franchisees — will be required to meet the new standards starting in January 2022. They must also collect feedback on the store’s work environment from employees and managers and share those results with staff. Corporate evaluations will consider whether employees feel safe, both physically and emotionally, Kempckinski said.

Some workers who have lodged complaints say they were not being heard and sometimes repercussions were levied against them. After speaking up, some employees reported experiencing retaliation, such as being given fewer shifts to work or transfers to another location. The complaints have been “unwanted touching, lewd comments, verbal abuse and physical assaults while on the job.” Some disgruntled employees demand being allowed to provide more input into the changes.

Kimberly Lawson, a McDonald’s employee in Kansas City, Missouri, filed sexual harassment charges against McDonald’s with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2018.

“Finally, it appears the company is starting to listen,” Lawson said Wednesday in a statement distributed by Fight for $15, an effort to unionize fast-food workers that Lawson helps lead.

But Lawson said she would like to see more details about McDonald’s plans, including what the training looks like and how often it will be offered. She also said the company should talk to workers like her if it wants to develop a truly effective program.

“The changes announced today didn’t come from us; they came from lawyers and executives. There can be no solution for us without us,” Lawson said.

Sometimes in these situations, when companies wrestle with making personal policy changes, it seems that employees forget who is in charge. Treating employees with respect and expecting fellow workers to do the same is a normal expectation in the workforce. There is no obligation, however, for corporate leaders to abide by the demands of hourly workers. In the case of this person speaking out, she has thrown in with the Fight for $15 activist group who are trying to unionize fast-food workers. That is a separate issue.

McDonald’s corporate headquarters in Chicago already have this training in place. It is likely that the corporate training program will be expanded. Restaurants will likely have training once a year. McDonald’s anti-harassment training first began in 2018. The new CEO wants to make sure the training is in all restaurants around the world.

McDonald’s first attempted to deal with the problem in 2018 by introducing harassment training for its U.S. franchisees and general managers. The following year, it started a hotline for employees to report problems and opened the training program to all of its 850,000 U.S. workers. But at that time, the company didn’t require franchisees to provide the training.

Kempczinski, who became president and CEO after Easterbrook was forced out, said many franchisees provided the training. But as he thought about the company’s values during the pandemic, which put more emphasis than ever on the health and safety of food workers, he felt it was important to expand the training and make it a requirement.

He wouldn’t say whether McDonald’s has removed any franchisees from its system because of worker-harassment charges. Often, when a franchise isn’t ensuring workers’ safety, it has other problems that can lead to its dismissal from the system, he said.

In February Kempczinski tied executive pay to progress toward meeting goals for adding more women and underrepresented minorities to its management ranks. McDonald’s joins the list of corporations looking to make gestures of woke hiring practices. Sound familiar? Is that fry cook making your food the most skilled or was he or she hired because they fit a quota? We’ve reverted back to that, apparently.

Will other fast-food companies follow the same path, so as not to appear out of step with social activism in the workplace? Probably. No company wants to be on the wrong side of this. “Let’s use this to raise the entire standards for the industry.” Kempczinski assumes all corporations are rife with bad behavior among employees and must be made to change. Anti-harassment training has been standard procedure for human resource departments for years. If it’s the magic cure-all for human behavior, why hasn’t it already conquered the problem?