(CNN) — McDonald’s announced Wednesday a new training program for restaurant workers and supervisors that aims to mitigate issues like bullying, sexual harassment and discrimination.
The company will roll out training materials, developed in partnership with sexual violence prevention organization RAINN, for all its US stores in October. The training will include computer-based and in-person lessons on issues such as discrimination and retaliation prevention, how to diffuse violent situations with customers and how to report a harassment complaint.
The announcement comes after months of criticism of McDonald’s by its restaurant workers, who say they have experienced violence, sexual harassment and other workplace issues at both corporate and franchise locations. In May, workers’ rights organizations and the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund said a number of sexual harassment charges and lawsuits had been filed against the fast-food chain, and workers hosted a protest in Chicago over the issue.
“There is a deeply important conversation around safe and respectful workplaces in communities throughout the US and around the world,” Chris Kempczinski, president of McDonald’s USA, said in a statement. “Together with our franchisees, we have a responsibility to take action on this issue and are committed to promoting positive change.”
This is the first time McDonald’s has provided such training for its nearly 850,000 US restaurant workers like cooks and cashiers. After the criticism over workplace safety issues began last year, the company conducted manager and restaurant operator training and introduced an anonymous hotline for employees to report concerns.
But the workers’ rights groups say these measures are not enough and urged the company to do a better job of ensuring reports of workplace issues are handled properly.
“Training workers to know right from wrong is meaningless if workers who report misconduct are ignored, or worse, punished. Training is useless if those who ignore its lessons face no consequences,” the groups said.
Jim Sisco, CEO of corporate risk advisory firm Enodo Global, said that the training program is unlikely to create real change in McDonald’s corporate culture unless the company talks directly to workers about the issues they face and comes up with solutions that can be measured.
“McDonald’s efforts for this training are not going to yield tangible, measurable results,” Sisco said.
The company will require the training at all of its corporate-owned restaurants and strongly encourages its franchise owners to implement the program. About 95% of the nearly 14,000 McDonald’s locations are independently owned, so the company cannot dictate how they handle their own employees, said franchise consultant and former McDonald’s franchisee Richard Adams.
However, the training initiative is being championed by the National Franchisee Leadership Alliance, an elected body representing McDonald’s franchise owners, which Adams said should help ensure the program’s adoption.
“I would expect that most franchisees will participate in the program voluntarily,” Adams said. The alliance “has a lot of sway, almost universal support among the franchisees,” he added.
McDonald’s says franchisees are enthusiastic about the program. But workers rights groups say the company should do more to ensure all employees are required to receive the training.
“Walk into any McDonald’s in the country and try to tell me if it’s franchise-owned or corporate-owned — you can’t, the food tastes the same,” said Sharyn Tejani, director for the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, which is funding several lawsuits from McDonald’s employees who say they have been harassed at work.