Stephen James Easterbrook, a British business executive, was the president and chief executive of McDonald’s from March 2015 to 1st November 2019 when he was dismissed by the Board of Directors, with immediate effect, due to evidence of a relationship with a staff member. This was in violation of company policy.
The US fast food giant said the relationship was consensual but that Mr Easterbrook had “violated company policy” and shown “poor judgement.” Although Mr Easterbrook is widely credited with revitalising the firm’s menus and restaurants, by remodelling stores and using better ingredients, the Board of Directors took his breach of company policy very seriously and Mr Easterbrook was fired.
This is a strong reminder that someone’s personal life can have an impact on their career- it doesn’t just affect politicians and other public figures. What was perhaps surprising in this case was the seniority of Mr Easterbrook and that his removal from his position in the company became front page news. But the issues and risks about workplace relationships are not that unusual for employers. Apparently 1 in 5 people meet at work. For employers this means there are matters to be considered, such as the possibility of a harassment or discrimination claim if things go wrong and there are of course privacy concerns. There may be conflicts of interest, or allegations of bias if the relationship exists within a reporting line.
In order to manage such situations some employers have a policy relating to personal relationships at work. Although in the UK it would be unusual to have a blanket ban on workplace relationships it is not unusual to make it necessary to have workplace relationships disclosed.
Many employees may feel that their personal lives are none of the employer’s business and employers should be sensitive to these privacy worries. That said employers should be able to take steps to protect their interests and having a clear policy can help to bring matters out in the open and strike the right balance.