McDonald's Employees Strike Amid Claims of Sexual Harassment

The world becomes more complicated each day. And for a good reason, the tolerance for bad behavior gets lower as well. So, many of us watch with interest as people struggle for their rights and dignity. Yet, when news media picks up on a recent story about a global corporation, people should take notice. McDonald's corporation has made headlines recently for the wrong reasons. Last month, sexual harassment claims caused workers to stage a strike for the fifth time since 2018. Sexual harassment in the workplace is not a claim to be underestimated. So to understand what's behind the allegations, keep reading.

Complaints History

In October 2021, McDonald's employees in over ten American cities walked off the job for a day. They rallied to protest inaction from the corporation about their sexual harassment claims. The strike, led by Fight For $15, alleged their 50 claims since 2016 had gone ignored. The company states there is no place for sexual harassment in McDonald's. Yet issues continue to rise against frontline store workers. And many have claimed they have been threatened with retaliation if they speak out. A year ago, unions surveyed 800 female workers and 75% said they were victims of sexual harassment at work. The study also showed 71% paid a consequence for reporting incidents. Many had their hours cut or got fired outright for speaking. McDonald's head office continues to issue statements stating they take these allegations seriously. A class action suit filed by 5,000 women last year failed to influence any concrete solutions. A McDonald's executive lost his job for having a relationship with an employee months before. But the corporate boss left with a healthy severance package. Meanwhile, female workers fear escalation of verbal threats to illicit touching. In April of this year, McDonald's announced it would mandate sexual harassment training. The mandatory training is set to begin in January, but there are no specific guidelines. So as frustration grows among workers, little has changed on their behalf.

Defining Sexual Harassment

The term sexual harassment originated in 1975. Journalist Lin Farley led an investigation into the struggles of women in the workplace. Many of the first cases involved African-American women and girls. The study by Farley led the U.S. government to define sexual harassment in two forms. First is when an employee must accept harassment to gain improvements in job status. For example, they are forced to ignore advances in exchange for a raise or promotion. The second type describes hostile working conditions that affect job performance. This kind of sexual harassment often involves public ridicule and body shaming. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited discrimination of employees based on sex, color, origin, and religion. But it wasn't until 1980 that sexual harassment got added to the Act. Then in 1991, the rights of women to sue became expanded as well.

High Profile Cases

In October 2020, a Pittsburgh area franchise hired a fourteen-year-old girl. The lawsuit claimed she received no sexual harassment training or instructions for reporting. Yet, McDonald's had begun sexual harassment training in 2019 with a reporting hotline. Three months after the girl started working there, the franchise hired a new manager. The man hired was a listed sexual offender on the Pennsylvania registry. He had a prison record for assaulting a ten-year-old girl. But the court learned that no investigation took place before hiring the individual. Despite complaints from the girl and other workers, the head office did nothing. The manager continued to abuse and harass underage employees. A month after he got hired, Walter Garner followed the girl into a bathroom and raped her. Garner got arrested in April only after another employee told her school about other incidents. The school called the police and Garner eventually got sentenced to 10 years in prison. McDonald's said they expected franchise owners to conduct thorough investigations into new hires. And the sexual harassment training mandate went into effect on the month of Garner's arrest. The franchisee issued a statement about the "deeply disturbing" allegations. They also noted the manager was fired after the complaints. Yet, the damage had been done.

Types Of Sexual Harassment

Whether someone has suffered emotional or physical abuse, the effects are far-reaching. And it happens most often to those who are powerless to react. Learning what constitutes sexual harassment acts is vital to a healthy workplace. Physical abuse begins in subtle ways, but all must get consideration. It can be as simple as innocent touching and escalate to abuse. What's important is, if it's not acceptable to the victim, the behavior should stop. Because the abuser wields power over the individual, fear becomes a significant factor. Choosing to report incidents that go unheard add pressure to the victim's sense of despair. They must then either accept inappropriate behavior as part of the job or quit. Emotional abuse is harder to define, but the severity can be as dire. This type of sexual harassment in the workplace often results in a piling-on effect. Like the schoolyard bully, abusers will use alliances with other workers against an individual. There are three distinct types of people who make up victims of sexual harassment. Gender is the first group and it's important to note that men are also victims of sexual harassment. Sexual orientation is another factor for sexual harassment in the workplace. The LGBTQ community has reported a lot on the physical strain of dealing with abuse from co-workers. Third is race, and most often it is people of color who suffer from sexual harassment in the workplace. Among this group, African Americans experience the most abuse.

Effects Of Sexual Harassment

Victims of sexual harassment often suffer in silence with symptoms unseen. Yet many ailments they endure are problems that other members of society struggle with daily. And worse, some of these problems come with a stigma attached. Alcoholism and drug abuse play a role in people's suffering after workplace harassment. Victims will deal with their pain by self-medicating. The helplessness that comes with no action causes them to relieve emotional stress in any way possible. Studies have shown that alcohol consumption can increase long after assailants are gone. The losing effect of making unheard sexual harassment claims add to emotional turmoil. Then as a result, the victim loses the ability to function in the workplace. Prolonged exposure to sexual harassment is devastating and can result in PTSD. There was a recent study that showed 76% of respondents displayed PTSD symptoms. Yet there are other psychological effects associated with sexual harassment. Excessive stress and depression are byproducts of abuse. As well, physical ailments like ulcers can occur. And then, there are the societal effects of sexual harassment in the workplace. Long after the accused gets dismissed or punished, the history of events stays with the victim. They often feel like they are getting watched closer by co-workers. So paranoia is a very real effect of sexual harassment.

Finding Solutions

The first part of changing the perception is to hold companies to account. The McDonald's workers have strived to get action for the issue for several years now. Yet, even though they acknowledge the issue, the business is slow to take real action. Corporations have to be willing to audit their entire operation. Awards received in lawsuits are helpful to victims. But the long-term effects of sexual harassment in the workplace can't get healed with money. So it's up to every business to inform their staff and create real consequences for poor behavior. McDonald's introduced a campaign to retrain employees in 40,000 locations around the world. It will take two years to complete the task, but it must continue from there. The willingness to start a program this large is an enormous step in the right direction. But employees must stay vigilant to make sure the system works. Unfortunately, that is another burden that befalls frontline workers. Several states have created legislation to combat the issue as well. California's law insists that any company with five or more employees must have online or in-person training sessions. Illinois made it mandatory for retraining on an annual basis. New York has done the same, plus making it mandatory for all companies to have a written sexual harassment policy. Several other states have also implemented sexual harassment laws for employers.

Breaking The Cycle

Stories like sexual harassment in McDonald's need more coverage to achieve better support. Then, when sexual harassment claims get the attention they deserve, all will benefit. It should make sense to businesses that safe employees make more productive workers.