Would you like a side of harassment with your burger?

7th August 2023

McDonalds hit the headlines earlier this week with the news that more than 100 employees had made allegations of inappropriate behaviour including sexual assault, harassment, racism and bullying. The complaints also included allegations that managers failed to act on the complaints and on occasions were the perpetrators.

Under the Equality Act 2010 (“EA”) employees are protected against discrimination (including harassment) in the workplace. Harassment is defined in the EA as unwanted conduct related to a person’s relevant protected characteristic (in the case of the McDonalds employees, most likely to be their gender or race) that has the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity or creating an offensive, intimidating or hostile environment.

Whether or not any of the actions complained of amounted to harassment would depend on how the employees perceived the conduct, the surrounding circumstances and whether it would be reasonable for the actions to have that effect. A one-off incident can constitute harassment and some conduct can be presumed to be unwanted unless proved otherwise. Unwelcome sexual advances or racist name calling or similar would almost certainly fall into this category.

Employers can be (and usually are) liable for acts of discrimination and/or harassment committed by their employees.  Employers have a defence to this type of claim if they can show that they have taken all reasonable steps to prevent the discrimination or harassment. Usually, that will involve as a minimum putting in place the correct policies and procedures and regular and effective (McDonalds managers were also accused of not taking the training delivered seriously) training for employees about equality, discrimination and harassment issues.

Where a claim for discrimination is successful, there is no limit on the level of compensation that the Employment Tribunal can award.

The Kuits employment team offer bespoke equality and diversity training workshops for managers and employees. Our workshops are interactive, practical and easy to understand and may assist you to avoid successful claims for discrimination.

For advice on issues such as harassment and discrimination or to arrange training for your staff please contact Claire Hollins.

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