These days, it might seem like policymakers in Washington, D.C. can’t find much to agree on. From healthcare to immigration to sustainable energy, everyone has an opinion on how to make our great nation even better. But every so often, lawmakers find something that they can unite around.
Women have been putting significant cracks in glass ceilings for the last few decades. We make up nearly 50 percent of the American workforce and are obtaining some of the country’s top leadership positions, including Fortune 500 companies like IBM and Lockheed Martin. In the traditionally male-dominated world of politics, women are being considered frontrunners for President and Vice President of the Free World. We are changing the norms and breaking down cultural barriers. We are strengthening the economy in significant ways and putting our mark on the entrepreneurial ecosystem.
One industry, in particular, has provided a substantial amount of opportunity for aspiring women entrepreneurs — franchising. Increasingly, women are starting their own small businesses, and the franchise model has proven to be a solid stepping stone, especially for first-time owners. I know this first-hand because the franchise industry helped me grow a business from three locations to a national network with more than 300 franchise locations. It has a natural support community of other franchise owners that have all experienced the trials and tribulations of starting a business. Women franchisors and franchisees can turn to this network for advice, questions, and mentorship. Having these mentors often leads to confidence, productivity, and greater success.
Additionally, and probably one of the most enticing reasons women are empowered to embark on an ownership journey, is the control and flexibility being a franchisor or franchisee allows. Women who are their own bosses can manage their lives all while controlling the success of their work and business — surely a benefit that lacks in the corporate world.
But, franchising isn’t just important for women who are interested in taking the leap to becoming a business owner. It is also incredibly beneficial for women who lack trained skills or a higher education. Franchisors and franchisees are invested in the growth of their employees. They are known to provide employees with training and apprenticeship programs to ensure their workforce has the appropriate skills, knowledge, and motivation for success. This can lead to management and higher-level positions that might not be offered in other workplaces.
This model has empowered thousands of women throughout the country, including myself, and has put them on a path to achieve their dreams. According to research by PricewaterhouseCoopers, 45 percent of all U.S. franchises are female-owned or co-owned by male and female partners. And this number is expected to grow. In 2017, more than 5,000 new franchise businesses will be created by women, according to IHS Insight.
Unfortunately, this model that benefits so many women has been under extreme pressure. A decision issued by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to vastly expand the joint employer standard has left business owners in a state of confusion.
Just like it sounds, joint employer refers to when two or more businesses share responsibility for an employee, therefore making them liable for the labor practices of another business. In the past, a business was only considered a joint employer when, understandably, it had “direct” and “immediate” control over some other company’s employees. Though this was rare, business owners never had to question their liability. With the NLRB’s expanded definition, businesses are considered joint employers if they exert “indirect” or even “potential” control.
Franchisors and franchisees no longer know what might set off a joint employer lawsuit, so they are playing it safe. Franchisors are providing fewer beneficial resources that first-time business owners, especially women, depend upon. The arm’s length relationship is no longer mutually beneficial as risky lawsuits loom.
However, providing business owners and their employees, especially women, with the clarity and the tools to strengthen our economy is something that all members of Congress can get behind. That is why Congress introduced the bipartisan Save Local Business Act (H.R. 3441).
Congress must make H.R. 3441 a top priority this year. With its passage, the clear joint employer standard would be restored right away. And, importantly, more women, and men, would be emboldened to embark on their dreams.