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The Band-Aid Approach to Harassment Prevention Didn’t Work for McDonald’s

Toby Graham /
close-up of hands of adult putting band aid on child's hand

Let’s take a look at a real-world lesson in workplace sexual harassment prevention. Read through the statement below:

“We have policies, procedures, and training in place that are specifically designed to prevent sexual harassment at our company and company-owned restaurants, and we firmly believe that our franchisees share this commitment.”

What do these words tell you?

A) The company has implemented policies to prevent harassment.

B) The company goes beyond policies, and trains its employees on anti-harassment procedures.

C) The company may have controls in place, but potentially lacks a system for actually managing and responding to alleged incidents of harassment.

D) All of the above.

The answer in this case is D… McD, to be precise.

Last year, McDonald’s underwent a PR and employment relations crisis when workers at 10 of its United States restaurants suddenly walked out and began protesting. The employees, joined by crowds of demonstrators, were drawing attention to harassment they’ve faced on the job. It was the first strike staged against sexual harassment in more than a century.

The statement above, provided by spokesperson Andrea Abate, was included in a BBC report that detailed the conditions employees faced at the company. According to the article, workers who had filed harassment claims “were ignored, mocked, or met with retaliation”—despite fact that McDonald’s had anti-harassment policies in place:

“In one example, Breauna Morrow, a 15-year-old cashier in St Louis, said that she had been ‘repeatedly harassed’ by a co-worker using ‘graphic, sexual language.’

However, when she reported the incident her ‘supervisors did nothing.’

In another incident, an employee said she had reported being groped by a co-worker at a New Orleans outlet.

Instead of taking action, her managers mocked the woman and said she was probably giving the worker ‘sex appeal.’”

This story is another example of why the “band-aid” approach to workplace harassment doesn’t work. What ultimately matters is not merely what you say and how you train your employees, but how your managers respond to complaints. And given the new #MeToo-inspired laws in states such as New York and California, no employer can afford to keep a half-baked workforce compliance program in place.

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