McDonald’s Easterbrook defended by other CEOs

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McDonald's Easterbrook defended by other CEOs

After Steve Easterbrook, CEO of McDonald’s was fired yesterday (4/11/2019), for having a relationship with an employee, some people have come forward and defended the CEO and compared the company to the Catholic Church.

Michael O’Leary CEO of Ryanair believes McDonalds policy not to allow managers to have romantic relationships with direct or indirect employees is a “step too far”.

Mr O’Leary said:

Ryanair don’t have a policy on this. I really get very worried when companies start having policies on people’s private activity.

If it’s consensual between consenting adults – Godspeed.

The organisation that has the most trouble imposing morality on everybody is the Catholic Church… they’ve had celibacy for 2,000 years and never been able to manage it.

He added that companies should have policies that affect corporate behavior.

James Reed, CEO of REED, an employment agency company seems to hold a similar opinion to Mr O’Leary and believes this move has just hurt McDonalds as their share price dropped 7.5 per cent after the news of Mr Easterbrook broke.

Mr Reed said:

Let’s face it, a lot of people meet at work. They might even fall in love. At REED we’ve had plenty of relationships blossom in the past and have also seen plenty of REED babies born!

We understand personal relationships can exist or develop between colleagues at all levels of the business. While they can often be harmless, in some circumstances they can create a damaging conflict of interest within a business.

Where such relationships exist, at REED we have a policy that requires people – where appropriate – to declare these to a senior manager. Having a clear policy makes good business sense and helps inform existing and new people from the outset. It’s important for businesses to have this framework in place to protect the rights of everyone and to maintain the highest levels of professionalism.

Julian Cox, head of employment Law at London legal practice, iLaw, said:

It is not uncommon for businesses to have some form of relationship guidance within their employee handbook, but in reality a lot of people meet and start relationships in the workplace, so it is extremely difficult to enforce a complete ban.

Employees should make management aware of new relationships in the workplace wherever possible. This should not affect your employment or rights but can help managers to understand your position.

Of course, issues become a lot more complex where an office relationship is either non-consensual or breaks down and employers must be mindful of any allegations made of sexual harassment or discrimination and the potential disruptive effect on other employees and the business as a whole.

However, Rebecca Thornley-Gibson, partner at law firm DMH Stallard states it is normal for relationships to occur in the workplace but you must be careful when one half of the couple holds a higher level over the other.

Ms Thornley-Gibson said:

Most individuals spend more time at work with colleagues than with friends and family and therefore it’s not surprising that many people find themselves in a personal relationship of some kind with a colleague.  Most of the time this won’t create issues and employers won’t interfere with the relationship. However, where there is a relationship that involves one of the individuals holding the balance of power in the workplace relationship, e.g. manager/supervisor/board member, then conflict issues are more likely to arise.

If one of the parties in the relationship is responsible for the other’s appraisals, pay reviews, promotion opportunities and even work allocation, then there is danger of favouritism and from team members, perceived bias.  There may also be issues where the more junior employee feels as though they cannot say no to amorous advances and this creates a real risk of later sexual harassment claims against the manager and employer.

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  1. We seem to be confusing two issues here (1) Should companies have such policies, and (b) if they do, are CEO’s exempt. I think the former is debatable and personally believe that work if probably one of the few places where people will come into face to face contact with most people and thus could find friendship or more. There are many ways in which the potential ramifications can be handled such as not allowing such relationships to exist in the same department or in a reporting structure. I believe the second is much clearer. We should all look to more senior management, CEOs especially, to role model expected behaviour. Without that,the organisation is morally bankrupt. Of course, short term issues will drive shareholders to cry foul but the corrosive effects of minor indescretions at sernior level cannot be underestimated. Living company values is always easy (and thus meaningless) when things are going well. It is having teh courage to call them out when it creates difficulty that is the test of integrity. I applaud McDonald’s for having the courage to do so. Perhaps they will change the policy, but the fact appears to be that the CEO breached their values and pays the price … just like any other employee would.

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