Why McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook was ousted and how to avoid his career mistake

The McDonald’s corporation announced on Sunday that CEO Steve Easterbrook would no longer run the company after violating company policy by engaging in a relationship with an employee, according to the Associated Press. Chris Kempczinski, who previously served as president of McDonald’s USA,  was named the company’s new president and CEO.

The decision to completely kick out the CEO over a consensual relationship has many thinking, what place (if any) do relationships have in the workplace? Ladders talked with a legal expert to hear her thoughts on the McDonalds situation, workplace relationships in a post #MeToo era, and why dating someone in the workplace can be a poor choice for your career.

The situation at McDonald’s

On Friday, McDonald’s board of directors voted to let Easterbrook go after conducting a thorough review.

Easterbrook wrote an email to employees, stating that he did have a relationship with an employee and admitted that it was a mistake.

“Given the values of the company, I agree with the board that it is time for me to move on,” Easterbrook wrote in the email.

The company will not provide details about the employee with whom Easterbrook had a relationship with.

When dating in the workplace becomes a bad career move

In the #MeToo era, dating in the workplace can cause much bigger issues than simply drama in the office. Relationships between a superior and an employee call into question the issue of fairness. When there is an imbalance of power, like with a manager, supervisor or board member, conflict issues are likely to arise.

 “If one of the parties in the relationship is responsible for the other’s appraisals, pay reviews, promotion opportunities and even work allocation, then there is danger of favoritism and from team members, perceived bias,” said Rebecca Thornley-Gibson, partner at city law firm DMH Stallard.

While the relationship was consensual in the situation with Easterbrook, the question of power comes into play when a superior engages in a relationship with his or her subordinate.

“There may also be issues where the more junior employee feels as though they cannot say no to amorous advances and this creates a real risk of later sexual harassment claims against the manager and employer,” Thornley-Gibson said.

Advice for employers

“Stopping relationships is not likely to be practical for employers but putting in place steps to minimize any fallout from the relationship should be considered,” Thornley-Gibson said. “This will involve having in place, and communicating workplace policies on conduct at work, equality and diversity policies with a clear zero tolerance towards sexual harassment and also requiring employees to declare relationships which are likely to result in a potential conflict.”