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McDonald’s asks judge to get NLRB off its back

McDonald’s has asked a federal judge to spare it from further demands by the National Labor Relations Board for documents beyond the 160,000 pages it has already provided—at a reported cost of more than $1 million.

The NLRB had subpoenaed the materials and additional documents, including emails, to learn what influence McDonald’s has on the employment policies and practices of its franchisees. The agency alleges that the company is actually a “joint employer” of licensees’ staffs and is treating the franchisor as a co-defendant in labor complaints filed against franchisees.

McDonald’s asked a judge this week to overturn the subpoena, which it called one of the most burdensome ever issued by the NLRB. The company noted that even if it should be held accountable as a joint employer in every outstanding complaint under review, the penalties would total about $50,000.

McDonald’s and the NLRB have been squabbling about the subpoena for months. Recently the NLRB complained to a judge that McDonald’s was redacting too much of the information on the subpoenaed documents and asked that the burger chain be ordered to use a lighter hand. McDonald’s countered that the requested information had no relevance to the complaints that have been filed against franchisees.

Much more is at stake for McDonald’s—and for many restaurant employers—than just hefty legal and clerical bills. The NLRB has redefined “joint employers” to include franchisors in some instances. In others, a company could be regarded as a co-employer with contracted outside firms, like a cleaning service or a valet parking business.

Legal wrangling over the joint employer designation are expected to last for years.

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