A group of McDonald’s employees in Chicago has filed a lawsuit against their employer, alleging that the company has failed to protect them from a pattern of violence. The workers claim in the suit that they “face the threat of physical violence every day” and that “the company needs to do a better job of protecting them.”

There are 17 employees involved in the suit. They work at 13 different McDonald’s locations in various parts of the city.

The workers claim that Chicago Police must respond to an average of twenty 911 calls to Chicago area McDonald’s every day. An attorney who represents the workers says, “McDonald’s has failed, at a systemic level, to protect its workers from violence in the workplace. Throughout the country, McDonald’s workers are regularly threatened, assaulted and injured by customers.”

Maybe McDonald’s should send their employees to Popeyes Dispute Management Training program. Some of their employees have been known to unload a whole can of whoop-ass on customers who just asked for their money back.

Part of the suit alleges that the company has “taken steps to increase its profits that have also made working in the restaurants more dangerous. This includes not having proper barriers at the check-out counters and not installing drive-thru windows that prevent customers from crawling through them.”

Read that sentence again; Not having proper barriers at the check-out counters and not installing drive-thru windows that prevent customers from crawling through them. Maybe it’s me, but I think that sentence says far more about the culture of our society today than it does about McDonald’s financial motivations.

The last time I checked, customers weren’t normally accustomed to crawling through drive-thru windows. They actually work much better when you drive by them than crawl through them. Of course, some people may have more confusion on that front, as there have been documented instances when pissed off people have either driven through the drive-thru window, or even more dramatically, created their own where none previously existed. These are symptoms of bigger societal ills.

Certainly, I can’t be the only one to notice in recent years a significant drop in polite behavior and proper decorum from the public at large. People seem to be more abrupt. They are more oblivious as well. Anyone who has dined in a restaurant or sat in an airport being entertained by brainless people watching videos or engaging in a Facetime call without headphones will know what that means. And stories of public outbursts and short tempers seem to be increasing in the news.

And the statistics on workplace violence bear that observation out.

According to the National Safety Council, there were 18,400 injuries as the result of assaults in the workplace in 2017. 458 fatalities were seen from the same phenomenon. Many of those injuries and deaths occurred in what we would consider “public facing” jobs; healthcare, service providers, education, and taxi drivers, for example. Stories abound about customers attacking food service workers, or food service workers attacking customers. And it’s not just limited to the foodservice industry. It is everywhere.

Customers used to know that drive-thru windows weren’t to be used to access a building in order to beat the employee who gave you the wrong flavored milkshake. They seem to have lost that important information.

While there are many factors that could be leading this trend, I suspect that social media bears at least some of the burden for creating this problem. I have often said that social media is anything but social, as people have become accustomed to immediate and often anonymous responses, allowing us to leave our good manners at the door. Flaming others online has become a sport, as it is easy to type a rude or snarky response to someone you cannot see and might not even know. Consider the fact that all of this is taking place on a platform that is expanding our ability to communicate while stripping us of the ability to relate, and it is a recipe for disaster. Throw into the mix a more permissive society and the lessening of personal responsibility, and it is game on for instant retribution the next time someone cuts in line at the coffee shop or an employee does something perceived as substandard in their work.

Life is changing, and the lawsuit against McDonald’s is simply a symptom of that bigger shift. Employers will need to be ever more vigilant in training their employees in crisis response, and for taking measures to keep them from harm. We can’t judge the merits of the McDonald’s lawsuit, but we can assess the societal changes that may have prompted it.

And those changes are an issue for us all.

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