McDonald’s Workers Allege They Were Told to Use Mustard to Treat Serious Burns

One day, maybe, McDonald’s will get some good news.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

McDonald’s just can’t catch a break. Last week, the company said same-store sales in the U.S. declined a full 4 percent in February. That followed a somewhat disastrous attempt to bring customers back to stores with an awkward “Pay With Lovin’ ” promotion, as well as the late-January resignation of CEO and longtime McDonald’s leader Don Thompson. In what seemed all but an outright admission of defeat, McDonald’s also said in its monthly sales report that it desperately needs to become a “modern, progressive burger company.”

Now, the company is facing a slew of health and safety complaints from restaurant employees who say they suffered serious burns from hot grease and worked in hazardous conditions without proper safety gear. In one particularly stirring anecdote, an employee says she sustained a bad grease burn to her arm while taking food out of a fryer and was told by a manager to “just put some mustard on it” when she asked for first aid. Over the past two weeks, a total of 28 complaints were filed with federal and state regulators in 19 cities, according to Reuters.

The complaints are being publicized by Fight for $15, a workers-rights group that organizes for $15 hourly wages, and the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, another workers-rights advocacy group. Along with excerpts of the health and safety complaints, the latter group on Monday released a survey it commissioned from Hart Research on fast-food working conditions. The survey, which interviewed 1,426 adults employed in fast-food restaurants between Feb. 20 and 24, found that 79 percent of fast-food workers said they were burned on the job during the last year while 29 percent said important safety equipment was missing from their workplace. One-third of workers who sustained on-the-job burns also said that their manager recommended using condiments like mustard, mayo, butter, or ketchup to treat their injuries.

McDonald’s said in a statement that the company and its franchisees are “committed to providing safe working conditions for employees” and that it plans to review the alleged health and safety violations. “It is important to note that these complaints are part of a larger strategy orchestrated by activists targeting our brand and designed to generate media coverage,” a McDonald’s spokeswoman said.

Labor complaints have long dogged McDonald’s. Under Thompson, the chain suffered one public relations catastrophe after another as low-paid workers were advised to sign up for food stamps and turn off their heat to make ends meet. The image of burned McDonald’s workers squirting mustard on their wounds will surely earn a place in that ugly canon.