McDonald’s global chief executive has been fired for having a relationship with another employee.
Steve Easterbrook, who grew up in Watford, Hertfordshire, told staff in an email the relationship was consensual but admitted it violated the company’s rules.
McDonald’s said Mr Easterbrook, who is credited with turning around the world’s largest fast food chain, demonstrated poor judgement and the board of directors decided he should go.
The company – like many US employers – does not allow managers to have romantic relationships with direct or indirect employees.
Mr Easterbrook, who had led McDonald’s since 2015, said the relationship with an unnamed person had been a mistake.
The 52-year-old, who lives in Illinois, is recently divorced and has three children.
He said: “Given the values of the company, I agree with the board that it is time for me to move on.”
His separation package will be made clear on Monday when details are released in a federal filing, a spokesman said.
He is believed to have been earning $ 15.9m (£12.3m) a year.
Chris Kempczinski, who was most recently president of McDonald’s USA, will be the new chief executive.
The 51-year-old praised his predecessor, saying: “Steve brought me into McDonald’s and he was a patient and helpful mentor.”
McDonald’s business conduct standards policy, signed by Mr Easterbrook, states: “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 favouritism or make business decisions based on emotions or friendships rather than on the best interests of the company.”
It says anybody in a relationship or who plans to enter into a relationship that may violate the policy “must advise your human resources representative or director immediately”.
Under Mr Easterbrook’s leadership McDonald’s shares nearly doubled in value as he brought the fast food chain into the modern world, switching to cage-free eggs, antibiotic-free chicken and hormone-free milk.
He also raised workers’ pay above minimum wage and gave different regions more control over their menus.
Chairman of the board Enrique Hernandez said Mr Easterbrook was “instrumental” in the development of the company’s strategic plan and oversaw the most comprehensive transformation of the US business in the chain’s history.
Mr Easterbrook trained as an accountant with Price Waterhouse after graduating from Durham University and first worked for McDonald’s as a manager in London from 1993 until 2011.
He left to become chief executive of Pizza Express and then Wagamama before returning to McDonald’s in 2013 as its chief brand officer then becoming the fast food giant’s UK and northern Europe head.
In 2015 he stepped up as chief executive.
Mr Easterbrook’s departure is among the most significant in corporate America in the past several years over relationships deemed inappropriate.
Scrutiny of executives and their treatment of employees has intensified amid the #MeToo social media movement, which highlighted instances of sexual harassment in the workplace.
In June 2018, Intel Corp CEO Brian Krzanich resigned after an investigation found he had a consensual relationship with an employee that breached company policy.