McDonald’s has signed an agreement with the EHRC to protect its staff from sexual harassment

McDonalds has reached a binding agreement with the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to eliminate sexual harassment in its restaurants. It has agreed:

  • to communicate a zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment
  • to conduct an anonymous survey of workers about workplace safety
  • to enhance policies and procedures to prevent sexual harassment and improve responses to complaints
  • to deliver anti-harassment training for employees
  • to introduce specific training and materials to help managers identify areas of risk within their restaurants and take steps to prevent sexual harassment
  • to support the uptake of policy and training materials by franchisees within their independent organisations to support reporting of sexual harassment
  • to monitor progress towards a safe, respectful and inclusive working environment.

Sainsbury’s, Jaguar Land Rover and Network Rail reached similar agreements with the ECHR in recent years.

What can we learn?

Revisit your sexual harassment policy and training. Even if it is fit for purpose, you should refresh it so that your people know the standard of behaviour that you expect and what you will do if they fail to meet that standard.

Remember the Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Bill (‘the Bill’) will introduce a new duty on employers to take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment. Currently, employers can escape liability for harassment if they can demonstrate that they’ve taken all reasonable steps to prevent it. This will impose a duty on employers to prevent it from occurring in the first place.

Return of protection from third-party harassment. The government repealed this provision in October 2013 because it deemed it ‘unnecessary’. It’s changed its mind. The Bill will reintroduce protection for employees who are harassed by clients or customers. However, it will not be limited to sexual harassment complaints. There will be no requirement for an employee to have been harassed before; employers will be liable for the first act of harassment if they have failed to take all reasonable steps to prevent it.

Reacting to incidents will not be enough. Displaying a sign that you do not tolerate abuse will not cut it. You must proactively prevent your staff from being harassed. What action you should take will be specific to your business and your sector.

Rewriting. The EHRC has been asked to rewrite the Code of Practice on Harassment. The new Code is likely to raise the bar in defining what employers need to do to prevent workplace harassment. This will affect employers’ ability to defend claims from people who have been harassed by colleagues or managers. It is also likely to describe how employers can meet the new proactive duty to prevent harassment and protect employees from third-party harassment.