Franchisor Power as Employment Control

55 Pages Posted: 10 Mar 2021 Last revised: 1 Sep 2021

See all articles by Andrew Elmore

Andrew Elmore

University of Miami - School of Law

Kati L. Griffith

Cornell University - School of Industrial and Labor Relations

Date Written: January 17, 2021

Abstract

Labor and employment laws are systematically underenforced in low-wage, franchised workplaces. Union contracts, and the benefits and protections they provide, are nonexistent. The Fight for Fifteen movement has brought attention to the low wages, systemic violations of workers’ rights, and lack of collective representation in fast-food franchises. Given that franchisees can be judgment-proof and cannot set industry standards, the deterrence, remedial, and collective bargaining goals of labor and employment laws can depend on holding the franchisor (the brand) responsible under the joint employer doctrine. In a series of cases, however, a dominant approach has emerged that essentially foreclosed the possibility that franchisors and their subordinate companies (franchisees) are joint employers. Recent political developments mirror this foreclosure and pose a historic narrowing of the scope of joint employer liability. This Article challenges courts, administrative agencies, and legislators to take more seriously franchisors’ power over their franchisees and the working conditions of low-wage fast-food workers. To advance this argument, we rely on insights from an original empirical data set of (1) forty-four contracts between leading fast-food franchisors and franchisees in 2016 and (2) comprehensive documentation provided in joint employer legal proceedings against two major fast-food franchisors in the United States: McDonald’s and Domino’s Pizza. Our proposed “power as employment control” construct considers, within the confines of existing doctrines, the cumulative effects of lead franchisor firms’ reserved (unexercised) and exercised influence over the working conditions in their subordinate businesses. By giving power more consideration in analyses of joint employer liability, courts, administrative agencies, and policy-makers can bring more justice and consistency to this hotly contested area.

Keywords: Labor law, employment law, franchising, joint employment

Suggested Citation

Elmore, Andrew and Griffith, Kati L., Franchisor Power as Employment Control (January 17, 2021). 109 Cal. L. Rev. 1317 (2021), University of Miami Legal Studies Research Paper No. 3767661, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3767661

Andrew Elmore (Contact Author)

University of Miami - School of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 248087
Coral Gables, FL 33146
United States

Kati L. Griffith

Cornell University - School of Industrial and Labor Relations ( email )

Ithaca, NY 14853-3901
United States

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