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McDonald’s fires CEO over consensual relationship with employee



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It’s a shot across the bow for any CEO of a major multinational – and also a salient reminder for HR that even an organisation’s top leaders can fall victim to a swift and ignominious fall from grace.

That’s the fate of former McDonald’s CEO, Steve Easterbrook, who was fired by the giant fast food chain because he had a consensual relationship with an employee.

The board of McDonald’s voted last Friday (1 November) to terminate Easterbrook after investigating his relationship with an employee. The company found his actions violated company policy – according to a statement released on Sunday. It’s clearly outlined that McDonald’s policy doesn’t allow the CEO to have a relationship with a member of staff.

“This was a mistake. Given the values of the company, I agree with the board that it is time for me to move on,” Easterbrook conceded in an email sent to employees on 3 November.

McDonald’s harassment policy

The company’s board had little wriggle room on how it handled the 52-year-old’s British executive’s transgression as his actions coming at a time when even consensual relationships are attracting scrutiny – especially when there’s an imbalance of power. Last May, McDonald’s beefed up its harassment policy after coming under pressure from employees, labour advocates and members of the US Congress.

In a letter responding to an inquiry from US Senator Tammy Duckworth, from the McDonald’s home state of Illinois, Easterbrook said the fast food chain has improved its policy and is committed “to ensuring a harassment and bias-free workplace”.

It’s a reminder of how relationships in the office can have a serious impact – both for the individuals involved and the company overall.

Interestingly, it appears that Hong Kong HR managers have a fairly benevolent attitude towards consensual relationships in the office. A recent by Human Resources online revealed that 78% of HR managers are accepting of office affairs provided they don’t interfere with professionalism or performance. Click below for the full story.

Also Read: The office romance: Fun or Folly?

It was a costly error of judgement for Easterbrook who was on a reported base salary of US$16 million for his role as CEO of McDonald’s prior to his termination.

It’s also considered a blow for the company as Easterbrook was regarded by his compatriots as one of the best CEO’s in the restaurant business. Easterbrook was renowned for his drive to capture a new generation of customers who would be willing to order through smartphone apps, pay online, and choose to have food delivered to the home or office. He was attributed with reviving sales at McDonald’s by introducing the all-day breakfast.

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