Last week fast food workers staged protests at McDonald's in three dozen cities nationwide; the protests occurred in the wake of 15 federal complaints against the fast food giant being filed with the EEOC claiming "rampant sexual harassment," according to Marketplace.org.
The article notes that McDonald’s says it has a zero-tolerance policy against sexual harassment, and an emailed statement from Terri Hickey, a McDonald's spokesperson said, "there is no place for harassment and discrimination of any kind in McDonald’s restaurants or in any workplace."
According to Marketplace, McDonald’s is not the only affected employer with a problem. This week, a survey issued jointly from Futures Without Violence, the National Partnership for Women and Families and the Ms. Foundation, all women’s advocacy groups, found that 42% of female employees at all fast food restaurants have been sexually harassed in the workplace.
This situation is a tricky one, but not new. The main issue here is: Can McDonald's corporate parent company be held responsible for these complaints, since they happen mainly at restaurants owned by franchisees?
It's not as if the McDonald's news is the first bit of legal tension affecting joint employment; labor and employment law firm Littler Mendelson found that dozens of joint-employer charges have been filed against franchises. For HR leaders in the fast food and hospitality sectors, the situation is one that needs serious monitoring.
The NLRB has expanded the definition of joint employment, the practice by which a franchise owner and parent company can both be liable if and when problems arise. In fact, McDonald's has already had a legal skirmish with the NLRB on the matter, and in November 2015 McDonald's filed legal documents denying that it bears responsibility for the behavior of franchise owners when it comes to compliance issues. The battle has so far gone on without a resolution. This latest EEOC action could have an impact on the issue from a legal standpoint, however.