Business Coalition Urges Congress to Nullify Expansive Joint Employer Rule

Workers erecting a building framework

The Real Estate Roundtable and a coalition of major business groups sent a letter to all members of Congress last week in support of a joint resolution that would nullify a final rule of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The NLRB “joint employer” rule—scheduled to go into effect on Dec. 26—would render employers vulnerable to claims by “indirect” workers who are not immediate hires. The policy has significant implications that could subject parent-level hotel and restaurant companies, other franchise-model businesses, and companies that hire contractors and subs to expansive joint employer liability. (Coalition letter, Nov. 9 and AP, Nov. 13)

Potential Impact

  • The NLRB rule overturns Trump-era policy and returns to an Obama-era position that makes employers liable to workers they do not directly hire or manage. It also holds joint employers liable for workplace issues they do not control, which range from collective bargaining to workplace safety conditions.
  • The Obama-era version—in place from 2015 to 2017—cost small business franchise operators $33 billion per year, according to the International Franchise Association (IFA). It resulted in 376,000 lost job opportunities and led to 93% more lawsuits against these businesses.
  • The Roundtable joined the coalition letter led by IFA and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Other real estate group signatories include the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AH&LA), the National Association of Home Builders, the National Multifamily Housing Council, and national general contracting organizations.  

Party Lines in Congress

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  • The measure could pass the House but is not expected to advance in the Democratically-controlled Senate.

The U.S. Chamber and other business organizations who are signatories on the coalition letter sent last week also filed a lawsuit challenging the joint employer rule on Nov. 9. Unions groups will likely seek to intervene to defend the NRLB rule. (U.S. Chamber case updates)

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U.S. Labor Department Adopts “Joint Employer” Rule, Returns to “Direct and Immediate Control” Standard

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The Labor Department on Jan. 12 released its final “joint employer” rule, returning to a standard where businesses can only be held responsible for workplace violations and collective bargaining obligations regarding workers over which they have “direct and immediate” control.  (Final Rule, Federal Register and Fact Sheet, Dept. of Labor).

  • This week’s rule takes effect on March 16.  It upholds a federal labor standard that was in effect for more than thirty years, before it was upended by a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) decision in 2015. 
  • That 2015 NLRB decision instituted an expansive interpretation of workplace relationships, where employees hired by a local franchise operator (or subcontractor) could also be considered an employee of the “parent” company (or general contractor) that had no role in hiring decisions.  The new regulation revives the long-standing rule that two separate employers are considered “joint employers” only where they both have “direct and immediate control” over hiring standards, employment terms and working conditions. 

  • In practical terms, the Jan. 12 rule means that a local franchisee remains obligated to sit down and negotiate with unionized employees – but the remote franchisor company that never hired the workers has no collective bargaining responsibilities to them.  Similarly, a subcontractor that commits workplace safety violations is responsible to its laborers, but a general contractor is not similarly responsible unless it has “direct and immediate” control over job site conditions.

  • Advocacy over the joint employer rule has spanned the Obama and Trump Administrations.  For example, as part of a broad multi-industry coalition, The Roundtable wrote to congressional leaders back in 2017 about the harm to businesses caused by the NLRB’s Obama-era position, essentially advocating for the Labor Department’s rule handed down this week. (See past Roundtable Weekly stories – March 2, 2018 / Dec. 15, 2017 / Nov. 10, 2017 / Sept. 11, 2015)

  •  On Jan. 12, DOL Secretary Eugene Scalia and White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney wrote in the Wall Street Journal about the new joint employer rule.

“The new rule also gives companies in traditional contracting and franchising relationships confidence that they can demand certain basic standards from suppliers or franchisees—like effective antiharassment policies and compliance with employment laws—without themselves being deemed the employer of the other company’s workers. That will help companies promote fair working conditions without facing unwarranted regulatory costs,” according to the two Trump Administration officials. (Wall Street Journal, Jan. 12)

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