Court Decisions Show Franchisees Must Be More Hands-on With COVID-19 Health and Safety Protocols

By Jarina D. Duffy

As every business owner knows, there are several different state and federal guidelines regarding how to manage a business while trying to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But, how far must a franchise owner go in ensuring that its employees are following all health and safety guidelines?

According to recent decisions in Illinois and California, it is more than just providing masks and hand sanitizer.

In Massey v. McDonald’s Corp., franchisees operating in Chicago, Illinois, were ordered by the Cook County Circuit Court to strictly enforce health and safety requirements and also train workers about social distancing and mask procedures while operating the restaurant. The judge argued that providing masks, hand sanitizer and gloves was not enough, even though the franchisees were also monitoring the symptoms of the employees. Instead, the franchisees had to go several steps further by ensuring that masks were worn at all appropriate times and that the employees were trained on proper social distancing etiquette. However, despite the heavy order on the franchisees, the judge did not extend the injunction to McDonald’s Corporation (the franchisor) because it did not have ownership in the franchised restaurants.

In another case involving a McDonald’s franchisee, Hernandez v. VES McDonald’s, the Superior Court of California, County of Alameda issued a temporary restraining order that required the franchisee to close for two weeks while the franchisee put in better safety procedures specifically pertaining to COVID-19, such as cleaning the restaurant, and providing masks and other protective gear to employees. In addition, the franchisee was required to obtain approval from the Alameda County Department of Environmental Health prior to re-opening.

These cases are potentially setting the stage for not only requiring franchisees to be more hands-on regarding training and enforcement of health and safety protocols surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, but also for additional lawsuits to be filed by employees asserting that employers are not adequately protecting the employees from the spread of COVID-19.

If you have further questions about the obligations as a franchisee or franchisor in enforcing COVID-19 preventative measures in your franchise or franchise system, please contact me at jarina.duffy@kentfranchiselaw.com or 610-205-6061.

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