EMPLOYERS are being urged to ensure they have a clear policy on personal relationships at work following the sacking of the chief executive of McDonald’s.

British-born Steve Easterbrook admitted he had “violated company policy” and shown “poor judgement” in his consensual relationship with an employee.

The US company has said it has long-standing rules against conflicts of interest.

Bloomberg estimated that Mr Easterbrook would leave the company with 37million US dollars, the bulk of it in previously granted shares.

Laura Kelleher, a solicitor at DC Employment Solicitors in Southampton, said: “Many people will meet their life partner at work. An online study in 2017 found that 15 per cent meet their significant other at work. Yet, the McDonald’s chief executive, Steve Easterbrook, has allegedly been fired for having a consensual relationship with a fellow employee (albeit walking away with a staggering settlement sum) and the issue has been thrown into the spotlight with many taking the view that they didn’t realise it wasn’t acceptable.

“The starting point is that there are no general legal rules that prohibit relationships at work. So, in many workplaces it may be that relationships are acceptable. It is very common for US businesses to have ‘relationship’ policies in place, less so in the UK. The issue at McDonald’s was that company policy provided that management staff were explicitly prohibited from having relationships with subordinate staff. It seems the CEO breached this policy and even went so far as to recognise his own ‘poor judgement’ in doing so.”

She said relationships between staff at different levels of seniority could raise concerns that an employee might receive preferential treatment.

“Although it may not exist, there may be a perception that it does and this may cause problems in selective processes such as promotion, redundancy or performance appraisals,” she said.

“This can also work the other way where things go wrong in the relationship. Aside from the difficulty in dealing with the ‘fallout’, one of the employees in the former relationship may feel they are consequently treated less favourably and, again, this may affect selective processes in the workplace.”

She said a written policy would be the employer’s best defence if problems arose.

“Without a policy, the revelation of a relationship at work is not a reason to discipline an employee in itself, although it may lead to action if there is subsequently inappropriate behaviour. However, if there is a policy in place and it is consequently breached, then there may be a fair reason for disciplinary action,” she added.

“A policy will therefore assist in directing employees as to what is acceptable at work and what is not, and what may happen if guidelines are breached. It will also guide managers in dealing with situations they become aware of to ensure that matters are dealt with consistently as again this could give rise to potential further issues. It is vital that employees know what is and isn’t acceptable.

“A personal relationship at work is a sensitive matter and it is certainly a grey area as to what will be considered a relationship. A policy would again assist with what the employer will consider to be a relationship to ensure that employees are aware of where the boundaries lie.”