McDonald’s has signed a legal agreement with the equality watchdog to better protect its UK staff from sexual harassment following a report that detailed a toxic culture that saw “at least 1,000 women abused and predatory employees moved to different stores rather than sacked”.

Workers at the fast food giant’s sites across the country have detailed a catalogue of abuse and harassment to the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU), which was reported by The Independent newspaper in 2019.

Allegations range from managers making repeated sexual comments, brushing up against staff and discussing sexual desires, to abusing their access to workers’ contact details in order to send texts and explicit photos, and even offering better hours and promotion in return for sex.

As a result, McDonald’s Restaurants Limited has signed a legal agreement with the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) in response to concerns about the handling of sexual harassment complaints made by staff in its UK restaurants.

Under the legal agreement with the EHRC (known as a section 23 agreement under the Equality Act 2010), McDonald’s Restaurants Limited has committed to measures including communicating a zero tolerance approach to sexual harassment; conducting an anonymous survey of workers about workplace safety; and enhancing policies and procedures to prevent sexual harassment and improve responses to complaints.

The company has also agreed to introduce specific training and materials to help managers identify areas of risk within their restaurants and take steps to prevent sexual harassment and support the uptake of policy and training materials by franchisees within their independent organisations to support reporting of sexual harassment.

Under the Equality Act 2010, employers are legally responsible if an employee is sexually harassed at work by another employee, and the employer has not taken all steps they could to prevent it from happening.

“There should be zero tolerance of sexual harassment in every organisation. It can devastate people’s lives and create a toxic working environment for all,” says chairwoman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission Baroness Kishwer Falkner.

“Every employer, no matter how big or small, is responsible for protecting its workforce. We work with all companies to help them do this. We are determined to crack down on workplace cultures of sexual harassment, whether in restaurants or hotels, sports clubs or offices.”

McDonald’s Restaurants Limited chief executive officer in the UK and Ireland Alistair Macrow said his company already had a strong track record” in the area and that he “welcomed the opportunity to work with the EHRC to further strengthen this”.

“As one of the UK’s leading employers, the safety and wellbeing of our people is our absolute priority. It is hugely important to me that everyone in our organisation feels safe, respected and included at all times – this is core to the values of our business,” he said.

“We will partner with the EHRC to bolster our best practice training and reporting approaches across our business to ensure that our values are understood, lived and acted upon across our organisation. Harassment and abuse have no place in our society or at McDonald’s.”