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Franchisor-Franchisee Independence and Joint Liability, Redux

source: Binomialphoto

As recently reported by BlueMauMau.org, the franchisor of the Tilted Kilt restaurant franchise system has recently been sued by several employees of its Chicago-based franchisee. The complaint arises out of alleged sexual harassment perpetrated by the franchisee himself.

Last year I wrote about franchisors being exposed to liability based on the conduct of their franchisees, but the issue is so important for all parties involved that several points bear repeating.

In the Tilted Kilt case, the franchisor allegedly published an “employee handbook” for franchisees to distribute to their staff, and exerted significant control over the operation of the franchised outlet in question. If true, these are two factors that typically weigh in favor of finding the franchisor to be a “joint employer” with its franchisee, thereby potentially subjecting it to liability for the alleged harassment.

Franchisors are supposed to provide support to their franchisees, and at its core, a franchise system is about building a cohesive, structured and predictable network of franchised outlets.

Even so, franchisors need to maintain an adequate degree of separation between themselves and their franchisees. Franchises are supposed to be “independently owned and operated,” and this is legally significant. Failure to maintain sufficient distinctions between the franchisor and the franchisee may result in the litigation situation presented in the Tilted Kilt case.

When preparing operations manuals, employment forms, and other documentation that you want your franchisees to use, do so in a way that requires franchisees to identify and maintain these distinctions. There are several effective ways to maintain uniformity and standards while also creating separation between franchisor and franchisee.

However, when a franchisor fails to impose adequate barriers between itself and the businesses carried on by its franchisees, customers, employees, and even the franchisees themselves may be able to make a colorable claim against the franchisor. If the franchisor doesn’t have documentation to back up its claim of independence (or worse, if there is documentation to the contrary), then it might just be faced with multi-party litigation.

How Much Do You Have to Spend?

Whether you’re purchasing a whopper from Burger King or joining the Burger King franchise system, the old mantra holds true: there’s no such thing as a free lunch. When you first get started running a franchise you need to pay a fee to allow you to enter into that franchise. These fees are the largest fees that you will normally pay a franchisor and typically range between $5,000 and $1,000,000 depending on the franchise. The franchisor charges this fee as a way to recoup the costs of expanding the franchise and to continue to grow. From a franchisee perspective, this is a major outlay and can take a long time to make back, but is a necessary step. Aspiring business owners must understand how much capital is available to them so they can ascertain how much they can afford. The cash you have at your disposal is known as liquidity, and there are numerous ways to increase your liquidity above the balance in your bank account. As a result, many people don’t realize how much capital they actually can use for investments, like launching a franchise branch. We’ll run through some of those methods below.

7 Options for Financing When Buying a Franchise

The primary difference between equity financing and debt financing is that with debt financing, you will have an obligation to pay back the borrowed sum at a stated interest rate, but you will retain control of the business; in equity financing you are giving up a part of the business to an investor or investors in exchange for their financing. The investors may claim some control of the business operations; they will also have some ownership in the assets and potentially will take a share in the earnings. You will not have a set debt obligation to repay as you would with a monthly loan payment to a bank. The investor will be taking a risk as to when and how much of the investment he or she will recoup, as well as whether there will be a return on the investment.