In response to concerns about how sexual harassment complaints made by UK staff have been handled, on 9 February 2023, McDonald’s signed a legal agreement with the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) committing to eliminate such behaviour.
Whilst the total number of complaints made in the UK is not known, the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU) in 2019 suggested the number of reported cases might exceed 1,000. As a result of this, an agreement was entered into by McDonald’s with the EHRC in under section 23 of the Equality Act 2006.
What exactly is a Section 23 agreement?
The relevant section of the 2006 Act permits the EHRC to request that an organisation which is suspected of having committed an unlawful act agree not to commit any further unlawful acts. In exchange the EHRC agrees not to pursue enforcement action.
The agreement will generally include an “action plan” for the organisation to follow which will address issues related to the suspected unlawful conduct. The organisation commits to the EHRC to implement this plan over a set period of time.
If the EHRC suspects that an organisation has failed to (or is unlikely to) comply with its obligations under the agreement, they may apply to the county court for an order requiring compliance.
Impact of the McDonald’s agreement
The agreement announced on 9 February 2023 has seen McDonald’s commit to communicate a zero-tolerance policy towards sexual harassment, the launch of an anonymous survey about workplace safety, and enhancement of their policies and procedures which seek to prevent sexual harassment (including improved response procedures upon receipt of any complaints).
Specifically, McDonald’s has committed to implementing:
- anti-harassment training (to be delivered to all employees);
- specialised training for managers to help them identify risk areas within individual restaurants; and
- practical support for franchisees through provision of training materials and actively monitoring progress to ensure a safe and inclusive working environment is achieved.
A Private Members’ Bill is currently being considered (with the government’s support) which would impose a duty on employers to take “all reasonable steps” to prevent sexual harassment of their employees. If enacted, this would place a greater duty onto employers to ensure their employees are not subject to sexual harassment including by customers and others outside the organisation. At the time of writing, the Bill has progressed through the House of Commons and has now started its passage through the House of Lords.
In light of these recent developments and proposals, businesses should consider a proactive approach to implementing policies and procedures which prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. To discuss this further, and how we might be able to assist, please do not hesitate to contact a member of our team.