With new variants spreading rapidly and vaccination rates remaining below what is necessary to gain control of the virus, the COVID-19 pandemic is continuing to play a major role in the way that many franchisees conduct business. Franchisees must make difficult decisions about whether (and to what extent) to impose restrictions and requirements, and they must do so while receiving guidance that seems to shift on a near-daily basis. They must take their franchisors’ requirements into account as well.
Franchisors Can Impose Reasonable Coronavirus-Related Requirements
Just as franchisors can impose other safety-related brand standards, franchisors can generally impose reasonable standards regarding COVID-19. Most franchisors began imposing mask mandates, social distancing requirements and other protocols last year. While many franchisors relaxed or removed their pandemic-related requirements heading into the summer of 2021, many are now revisiting these requirements as cases surge once again.
While franchisors can impose reasonable standards regarding COVID-19 safety protocols, they cannot force their franchisees to violate the law. This means that franchisors cannot impose requirements that would:
- Infringe on employees’ or customers’ legal rights (i.e. requiring all employees to wear masks without considering reasonable requests for accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA); or,
- Force franchisees to choose between adhering to brand standards (i.e. not mandating masking or social distancing) and complying with legal requirements (i.e. a city-imposed obligation to wear masks while indoors).
Otherwise, franchisors’ ability to establish system-wide standards is fairly broad. Franchisors can also require their franchisees to maintain legal compliance—and this is a standard provision in most franchise agreements. Thus, if a franchisee violates a coronavirus-related legal requirement, not only could the franchisee risk fines and other penalties, but it could risk default and termination under its franchise agreement as well.
What if You Disagree with Your Franchisor’s Stance on COVID-19 Safety Measures?
With all of this said, what are your options if you disagree with your franchisor’s stance on COVID-19 safety measures? As with most aspects of the franchise relationship, as a franchisee, your preferences take a backseat to those of your franchisor. As long as your franchisor is complying with the law and your franchise agreement, there is little you can do (in most cases) if you simply prefer not to comply.
However, if you believe that complying with your franchisor’s standards will put your employees’ or customers’ health at risk, this is a different story. In this situation, you can – and should – engage a franchise law firm for guidance. You will need to make informed decisions in order to protect your franchise and avoid potential liability exposure, and this will require the advice and insights of a firm with specific experience in the franchise realm.
Contact Our Franchise Law Firm for More Information
If you have questions or concerns about your rights or obligations as a franchisee, we encourage you to contact us for more information. To speak with an experienced franchise lawyer at the Goldstein Law Firm in confidence, call 202-293-3947 or request a free consultation online today.