(AP) – McDonald’s will require workers to be trained to combat harassment, discrimination and violence in its restaurants around the world starting next year, the company said on Wednesday.
Training needs will affect 2 million workers in 39,000 stores worldwide.
“It is really important that we are very clear about this: A safe and respectful workplace where people feel safe is vital to our company,” said Chris Kempczinski, President and CEO of McDonald’s, in an interview with The Associated Press. “It’s exactly what society expects.”
The change is part of a larger statement of sexual harassment at McDonald’s. At least 50 workers have filed charges against the company in the past five years for physical and verbal harassment and, in some cases, retaliatory acts when they complained. The problem wasn’t limited to restaurants. In November 2019, McDonald’s fired former CEO Steve Easterbrook after confirming a relationship with an employee.
Kempczinski, who joined McDonald’s in 2015, said the company needs to set expectations and then relate to them continuously, especially since restaurant turnover can be high.
“If you don’t talk about values all the time and keep them front and center when you get complacent, they may not be as obvious or as inspiring to people as they could be,” he said.
McDonald’s restaurants worldwide, 93% of which are franchise-owned, will have to meet the new standards from January 2022. You also need to gather feedback from employees and managers on the business environment and share those results with employees. Company evaluations check whether employees feel safe, both physically and emotionally, said Kempckinski.
Many McDonald’s franchisees support the change.
“As an employer, we play an important role in raising the bar for a value-driven, safe and inclusive work environment,” said Mark Salebra, chairman of the National Franchisee Leadership Alliance, in a statement distributed by McDonald’s. Allianz represents more than 2,000 US franchisees.
In legal filings, McDonald’s employees have complained of unwanted touch, lewd comments, verbal abuse, and physical assault while on the job. In some cases, workers accused managers of ignoring their grievances or retaliating by giving them fewer shifts or moving them to other businesses.
In 2018, McDonald’s attempted to solve the problem by introducing harassment training for its U.S. franchisees and directors. The following year, an employee hotline was set up to report problems and the training program opened to all 850,000 U.S. employees. At this point, however, the company did not need franchisees to conduct the training.
Kempczinski, who became president and CEO after Easterbrook left, said many franchisees offered the training. However, when reflecting on the company’s values during the pandemic, which put the health and safety of food workers at the fore more than ever, he felt it was important to expand training and make it a requirement.
Kempckinski wouldn’t say if McDonald’s removed franchisees from its system for harassing workers. When a franchise company fails to ensure worker safety, it often has other issues that could lead to its being fired from the system, he said.
Details are still being worked out, but Kempczinski expects employees to receive training when they work at McDonald’s. Restaurants may also provide training for all employees once a year. This is similar to the type of training already held at the company’s Chicago headquarters.
McDonald’s said it will continue to work with experts and provide anti-harassment materials, but franchisees could choose their own training programs.
Kempczinski hopes that McDonald’s will become a model for the restaurant industry.
“Let’s use this to raise the overall standards for the industry,” he said.