States Lead the Charge Against Joint Employer Overreach

The National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) August 2015 ruling in Browning Ferris Industries completely upended the standard definition of “joint employer,” throwing thousands of business arrangements into limbo.  In doing so, the NLRB ignored legal precedent and can now hold franchisors liable with their franchisees for labor violations.  Despite this sweeping federal regulation, a plethora of state legislatures are defying the NLRB and passing legislation that preempts the new “joint employer” standard, opting instead for the traditional definition that franchisors and franchisees are separate entities.

A recent Bloomberg BNA article highlighted the role that IFA, along with other business oriented groups, has had on facilitating this proactive franchise legislation across the US.  “We are actively pursuing this legislation this year and have a strategy to continue pursuing this legislation in as many states as we can going forward,” said Jeff Hanscom, IFA director of State Government Relations. The IFA has successfully passed bills in Michigan, Louisiana, Tennessee and Texas, while legislation is moving in Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Michigan is the most recent state to codify the franchisor-franchisee relationship, and bill sponsor Rep. Eric Leuthesuer (R) explained why he chose to take action on this issue: “What you are seeing in the states is legislatures looking at things that probably never needed to be addressed in statute because they were largely considered settled, common sense or intuitive for a long time. And now, because of court rulings, a lot of things that were common sense are now being thrown into some confusion, or potential confusion, or potential chaos. That’s not good for anybody.”

Through the Coalition to Save Local Businesses, the IFA continues to pressure Congress to act on the “joint employer” issue and provide a remedy for small business owners in America.  Judging by the success the IFA has had in state governments, it is clear that these legislators see the negative consequences impacting business owners in their districts, and states continue to lead the way.

Small business owners to Congress: NLRB’s new test is targeting franchises

On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) held a hearing to address the NLRB’s revised “joint employer” standard as detailed in its August 27 decision in Browning-Ferris Industries.  The Board indicated that “indirect, potential, or ultimate” control over another employer’s workers could be enough to trigger a finding of joint employment, a change from the previous standard requiring direct and immediate control over terms and conditions of employment.  The committee is also considering a legislative solution – Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) introduced legislation last month, the Protecting Local Business Opportunity Act, to restore the decades-old definition of joint employer.

Among the panel of witnesses was Ciara Stockeland, Owner and Founder of MODE, a fashion retail franchise based in Fargo, ND.  MODE is a small franchisor with 12 locations, and plans to expand to 75 by 2024.  “The uncertainty introduced by the NLRB’s BFI decision jeopardizes the expansion of my business,” Ms. Stockeland testified.  “As a small business owner who meets countless public and private demands and competes against massive corporations each day, I find it terribly frustrating to have regulators harming my business and the careers of so many others in our system.”

Despite the NLRB’s ongoing litigation against franchise companies alleging joint employer liability, some Senators insisted that a new joint employment standard will not present a problem for franchise businesses, pointing to the NLRB General Counsel’s advice memorandum in the Freshii case declaring that a single franchisor was not a joint employer with its franchisees.  In response, Ms. Stockeland testified that the Freshii memo “is simply a distraction,” noting that the memo does not hold the force of law and has not been fully litigated like the Browning-Ferris Industries case was.  She also pushed back on the Senators’ arguments that Browning-Ferris does not impact franchise companies since it was a ruling on contracting relationships, saying that “every franchisor-franchisee relationship is based on a contractual franchise agreement.  Franchising is contracting.”

Ms. Stockeland also attended yesterday’s White House Summit on Worker Voice, an event designed to bring together leaders from the labor, employer, and advocate communities to explore ways to collaborate to improve jobs and the economy.  However, the event has been criticized as being biased towards labor unions, with very few representatives from the employer community invited to participate.  “I think from what I have heard, I am in the minority there,” she told The Daily Caller News Foundation in an interview on Tuesday.  “But I am excited to tell my story.”

Chairman Alexander’s bill, S. 2015, continues to gain momentum in the Senate and currently has 60 co-sponsors.  Identical legislation in the House of Representatives, H.R. 3459, is sponsored by Rep. John Kline (R-MN), Chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, and has 44 co-sponsors.

To watch video of Tuesday’s hearing, click here.  To send a letter to your legislators urging them to support the Protecting Local Business Opportunity Act, click here.