I just got back from Miami, where this happened. According to The Miami Herald, a very badass bobcat was caught on video taunting a 120-lb python by swatting at it and eating its eggs. Despite giving up 100 lbs to the python, the bobcat reigned supreme. Unbeknownst to our friends in the animal kingdom, there are easier ways to get an omelet.
This week’s post is also about fighting over who reigns supreme. But this battle is between the FTC Franchise Rule and the ABC Test for determining independent contractor vs employee status. Sounds exciting? (I know!)
In Massachusetts, there is a strict ABC Test for determining employee status. This is the hardest ABC Test to meet in the US. It is the same as California‘s test but lacks the exceptions found in California law.
ABC Tests have been viewed in the business community as a threat to the franchising model of doing business. On one hard, franchisors must exert control over their franchisees to ensure brand consistency. On the other hand, exerting control is a sign of employment and could turn a franchisee into the franchisor’s employee.
In Patel v. 7-Eleven, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court was asked whether the ABC Test can be used to determine employment status in a dispute between a franchisor and franchisee. The franchisor, 7-Eleven, argued that the state law test is incompatible with the FTC Franchise Rule and should therefore be disregarded in the franchise context.
The Court ruled that the ABC Test still applies, reversing the earlier decision I wrote about here, in this super fun but now outdated Electric Grandma-themed post.
The Court explained that the FTC Franchise Rule deals with control over the “method of operations,” not control over the method of “performing service”:
“[C]ontrol over the franchisee’s method of operation” does not require a franchisor to exercise “control and direction” in connection with the franchisee’s “performing any service” for the franchisor — the relevant inquiry under the first prong of the ABC test. That the election under the FTC Franchise Rule and the first prong of the ABC test employ the same word — control — does not create an inherent conflict. Indeed, “significant control” over a franchisee’s “method of operation” and “control and direction” of an individual’s “performance of services” are not necessarily coextensive.
I dissent. (Can I do that?)
The lines get awfully blurry awfully fast. The differences the Court relies on are subtle differences. In many respects, control over the operation seems to requires control over how services are performed. Your burger at one franchise looks and tastes the same as your burger at another franchise because the method for making that burger has to be essentially the same. It’s true that the franchisor doesn’t control a franchisee’s schedule or hiring process. But how well will a jury understand that the franchisor’s control is over the “operation,” but not over the “services”?
The Court’s ruling does not mean franchisees in Massachusetts are going to be considered employees now, but it does make it more challenging for a defendant/franchisor to explain the subtle distinctions in types of control.
I don’t know who in this scenario is the bobcat and who is the python, and I certainly don’t know who would be the one eating the eggs. But like the python vs. bobcat confrontation, there’s a definite clash here, and it’s an uncomfortable and confusing situation for everyone. The Massachusetts Supreme Court certainly didn’t do anything to make it easier to apply the ABC Test, and independent contractor misclassification remains a serious risk for franchisors who comply with franchising requirements.
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© 2022 Todd Lebowitz, posted on WhoIsMyEmployee.com, Exploring Issues of Independent Contractor Misclassification and Joint Employment. All rights reserved.