Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment occurs more often than most people realize. When sexual harassment takes place in the workplace, it affects everybody, not just the harasser and his or her victim. Companies who allow harassment earn a reputation that makes the best employees not want to work for them and incur legal debt from lawsuits brought against them for not taking steps to eliminate the harassing behavior. Some companies even avoid the situation by passing the responsibility for the harassment on to their franchise owners despite the fact that it is their corporate reputation at stake. Sexual harassment is a big deal and those who companies who do nothing to stop it will pay the price for their lack of ethics.

Harassment of any sort is a crime. Harassment is defined as any unwelcome behavior based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability or genetic information. Sexual harassment is a type of unwelcome behavior that focuses on a person’s sex and includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal and physical behavior that involves sex (EEOC, 2019). Making sexist remarks about women in general is also considered sexual harassment. Males and females can be victims or harassers. The law says the behavior must create a hostile or offensive environment that results in a negative employment outcome such as the victim employee being fired or demoted. Supervisors, co-workers, clients and customers can be the harasser (EEOC, 2019).

Sexual Harassment’s Impact on Morale, Relationships and Productivity

The impact of sexual harassment is not just felt by the person being harassed. If a woman is being sexually harassed at work, her co-workers see it and those who are female may fear that it could happen to them. They see that there is nothing being done to stop the behavior and that makes them worry that it may be part of the company culture. A harassed person can lose his or her job or a chance for promotion if he or she does not concede to the harasser if the harasser is someone in authority. Or, the harassed person may be so uncomfortable they quit their job. The harassment makes the workplace hostile and that can traumatize not only the harassed person but also those who witness it and believe that it is sanctioned by the company. Lumen (2018) of the website, 360 Training explains that when sexual harassment takes place it has a demoralizing effect that discourages women from being assertive in the workplace, and for men it reinforces the stereotype that women are sex objects. “Sexual harassment is also damaging to an organization. . . . The hostility created by harassment causes absenteeism, low morale, gossip, animosity, stress, and anxiety among staff. Low productivity is more common in environments with high rates of sexual harassment” (Lumen, 2018). Other type of fallout from sexual harassment include that both victims and witnesses of sexual harassments are more likely to quit their jobs, which leads to a high rate of employee turnover, higher costs for hiring and training, and a toxic environment that makes recruiting the best employees more difficult (Lumen, 2018).

The effects of sexual harassment do not stop once the victim leaves the workplace either. Spector (2017) of NBC News says, “Sexual harassment can wreak havoc on its victims, and can cause not only mental health issues, but physical effects as well. . . . For victims of sexual harassment, the most common diagnoses are depression, anxiety, and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)” (Spector, 2017). With these sorts of effects on mental health, the victim’s personal relationships are bound to suffer as well as his or her workplace relationships too.

McDonald’s and How it Avoids Sexual Harassment Lawsuits

McDonald’s and other restaurant industry outlets have had numerous sexual harassment claims, but McDonald’s rarely ever pays the victims anything and is often not even held responsible when it is proven that the victims were fired as retaliation. The way they avoid these issues is that according to Baertlein and Wiessner (2018) of Reuters is because 90 percent of their restaurants are franchises. The corporation is often not held responsible for the incidents that occur at their franchises. The claimants in the latest lawsuit “including a 15-year-old from St. Louis, said . . . they were ignored, mocked or terminated for reporting the behavior. The accusations included claims that co-workers or supervisors sexually propositioned, groped or exposed themselves to the women” (Baertlein & Wiessner, 2018). Other similar charges against the company were filed in 2016, but McDonald’s was dismissed from the lawsuit because they claim they did not employ the victims who filed the lawsuit, but their franchises did (Baertlein & Wiessner, 2018). While that may be technically true, it would seem that McDonald’s is almost condoning the behavior when they rush to say to the victims that they are not responsible and then refuse to do anything to stop the sexual harassment from occurring. Apparently, judging by the dates of the two lawsuits mentions (and there are probably many more), sexual harassment is common among McDonald’s employees even if they do work at a franchise.

An even more recent class action lawsuit filed in October 2019 points out that McDonald’s does bear a lot of the responsibility. Durbin (2019) of the Chicago Tribune says, “McDonald's and its franchisees are required to comply with state and federal anti-discrimination laws. Beyond that, McDonald's generally claims that workers at franchised restaurants are not its employees and doesn't spell out how harassment claims should be handled by franchisees” (Durbin, 2019). One of the attorneys in the class action lawsuit says, that she will argue that McDonald’s is responsible for sexual harassment at their franchises because the corporation exerts a great deal of control over its franchises. Employees consider themselves McDonald’s employees, and McDonald’s should be accountable.

Best Practices for McDonald’s

McDonald’s should take at least some responsibility for the actions of employees even if they are franchise employees. The name on the restaurant where the sexual harassment occurs is the same name as the corporation. Customers and victims do not know or care that the setting of the harassment is a franchise and not (technically) owned by the corporation. McDonald’s could make rules that franchisees must agree to before they are given the franchise that state that sexual harassment is not allowed. McDonald’s could even make a clause in the franchise contract that says that if sexual harassment occurs, the franchisee will forfeit the business. That might make franchise owners more concerned about what occurs in their restaurants.

McDonald’s could also require that all employees of franchises and otherwise undergo training that includes sexual harassment education. This could also be a requirement for franchise owners. Durbin (2019) says that McDonald’s did initiate a training program a year ago, but since then, more sexual harassment claims have been made. Perhaps they need a better training program. In January of 2019, McDonald’s released a new policy against “discrimination, harassment and retaliation, and in June it began offering a free hotline for employee” (Durbin, 2019). Whether these measures will stop the rampant sexual harassment at the franchises is yet to be seen.

Ethical Practices of McDonald’s

The ethical practices of McDonald’s regarding sexual harassment is poor. They know that this occurs at their franchises, but when they should be accountable, they refuse to take responsibility. It does not matter whether they technically own the stores where the harassment takes place or not, they stores all have the McDonald’s name on them. The harassment could hurt their reputation and make it so that they cannot hire good employees because no one wants to be harassed and then have their employer try to pass the buck to someone else when the employee makes efforts to fight back against the harassment.


McDonald’s and every other corporation must take a stand against sexual harassment. Their reputation suffers when the public learns that sexual harassment takes place and the corporation refuses to take responsibility for it. Hopefully, their latest efforts to stop it will help, but since new allegations have been leveled against McDonald’s franchises since the new measures have been in place, it does not appear that they did.


Baertlein, L., & Wiessner, D. (2018, May 22). Workers hit McDonald's with new sexual harassment claims. Retrieved from Reuters:

Durbin, D.-A. (2019, Novmber 12). ‘I want McDonald’s to recognize that they have a problem’: Workers say sexual harassment must be addressed at burger chain. Retrieved from Chicago Tribune:

EEOC. (2019). Sexual Harassment. Retrieved from Equal Employment Opportunity Commission:

Lumen, M. (2018, January 18). Effects of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace. Retrieved from 360 Training:

Spector, N. (2017, October 13). The Hidden Health Effects of Sexual Harassment. Retrieved from NBC News: