Decision: The General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), Richard F. Griffin, has authorized unfair labor practice complaints to issue against McDonald's USA LLC on the grounds that the corporation could be held liable as a joint employer for it franchisees’ treatment of their workers in response to the workers’ protests. Complaints were authorized to issue on 43 of the 212 unfair labor practice charges that McDonald’s employees had filed related to the protests since November 2012. Sixty-four of the charges remain under investigation while 68 were found to have no merit.

Impact: General Counsel Griffin’s position on this franchisor joint employer issue could have wide-ranging implications. For instance, his position could affect other industries that rely upon the franchise model to run their businesses, such as hotels and car rental companies. Further, should the NLRB accept the General Counsel’s position, the joint employer relationship could also apply to union election and collective bargaining processes as well. Finally, such a ruling could open the door for an expansion of the joint employer doctrine in other employment disputes. Pending the NLRB’s final decision, it would be wise for franchisors to review their franchise agreements and the manner in which they conduct their relationships with franchisees to ensure that they are well-positioned to defend against claims of joint employer liability.