The news caused a frenzy all over the world with people debating whether it is right for employers to have this level of control over their employees when it comes to their personal life and relationships. These views are more likely to be different depending on the part of the world employees work in. McDonalds has different workplace policies on dating in the workplace depending on which country its employees are based in.
Mr Easterbrook was based in the US and was subject to the US policy which has a blanket ban on workplace relationships and states that “employees who have a direct or indirect reporting relationship to each other are prohibited from dating or having a sexual relationship.” Interestingly, the corresponding UK policy has the same wording but also provides an exception to the rule which states that “unless it is clear that such relationship poses no conflict and provided that the relationship has been disclosed to, and approved by senior management and HR.” Both policies go on to further state that “if you are either in a relationship or plan to enter into a relationship that may violate company policy, you must advise your HR rep or Director immediately.”
This leads us on to the big question as to "Why McDonalds have taken a more lenient approach to workplace relationships in the UK than in the US?"
As our employment law specialist, Eleanor Mannion touched upon in her recent interview with STV (https://player.stv.tv/summary/scotland-tonight) the UK individuals have additional legal protections afforded to them in the way of human rights legislation, particularly Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) as applied by the Human Rights Act 1998 which incorporates human rights set out under the ECHR. While this right is not absolute, it and other such ECHR rights will be taken into account by the Courts and Employment Tribunals as they should interpret the law in ways which are compatible with ECHR rights. Individuals therefore have the right to respect for private and family life. They have the right to live their life privately without interference from public authorities and this includes private romantic relationships. As a qualified right, there are exceptions, for example, if the interference can be shown to be justified and in accordance with the law. This may be one reason why, in the UK, bans on workplace relationships are not as prevalent as they are in the US, as many people may view this as interference by their employer and be less likely to agree to those terms of employment. Such policies are not legislation so are therefore voluntary. However, given that the balance of power usually lies with the employer in respect of negotiating any terms relating to employment contracts and applicable policies, then it will be hard for an employee to refuse to follow a policy like these. This is a point worth making as employers draft the policies and employees have no final say over what it contains.