On November 3, 2019, McDonald's issued a press release announcing that it fired its CEO Steve Easterbrook for violating company policy and demonstrating "poor judgment" by engaging in a consensual relationship with a McDonald's employee.
This decision comes after an internal investigation conducted by McDonald's, and with Mr. Easterbrook's acknowledgement that he had violated company policy and made a mistake. McDonald's will pay its former CEO six month of severance pay in connection with his termination.
So what was the policy he violated? According to McDonald's Standards of Business Conduct, the following applies:
In order to avoid situations in which workplace conduct could negatively impact the work environment, employees who have a direct or indirect reporting relationship to each other are prohibited from dating or having a sexual relationship. It is not appropriate to show favoritism or make business decisions based on emotions or friendships rather than on the best interests of the Company. If you are either in a relationship or plan to enter into a relationship that may violate Company policies, you must advise your Human Resources Representative or Director immediately.
This policy is different from what Ross Geller thought the policy was at the university where he was a professor, which was that dating a student was only "frowned upon."
Notwithstanding Ross's misunderstanding, there are many companies that stop short of banning relationships altogether. Often times, that's a mistake, especially with the scrutiny that an imbalance of power in the workplace has in the #MeToo era.
What can companies do?
Each company is different, and there may be good reason not to prohibit relationships in the workplace. On the other hand, most times such a prohibition - at least between a manager and someone that he or she supervises - can really protect the company from allegations of favoritism, hostile work environment, and often times retaliation when the relationship ends.