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Franchisor-Franchisee Independence and Joint Liability, Redux

source: Binomialphoto

As recently reported by, 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.

Cottage Inn Gourmet Pizza Expands Midwest and Offers New Franchise Opportunities

Famed Ann Arbor pizza brand, Cottage Inn Gourmet Pizza, a family brand founded in 1948, recently announced its plans to expand in to the Midwest and offer new franchising opportunities, as it enters a new phase of aggressive growth. By the end of this year, Cottage Inn Gourmet Pizza hopes to launch 10 new locations in Ohio, Illinois and Indiana. The group also has international ambitions, with plans to open up to 200 new shops in China within the next 15 years. The company currently operates over 50 establishments in Ohio, Florida and Michigan.

The Franchisee & Franchisor’s Point of View

Many of the characteristics of the perfect franchisee are shared by both a franchisee and a franchisor, but there are also some slight differences. A franchisor is more concerned with how an individual franchisee will fit into their business as a whole, and not necessarily how the single franchise will operate on a day to day basis (although that’s still important to them). Meanwhile the franchisee cares almost exclusively about the success of that individual.

5 Principles Businesses Can Learn From Moneyball

Moneyball is a film about baseball, but on a deeper level, it’s about how to succeed in life through a series of broader principles, which can be applied to many areas, including business. Here are five such principles that business owners can utilize.