Sunday, September 7, 2014

Are You a Co-Employer With Your Food Service Contractor?

            Companies, colleges and others who have outside contractors operating their on-site food services should beware of the risks they face in the rapidly evolving arena of employment law.  The widely publicized finding of the National Labor Relations Board General Counsel that McDonald’s is responsible for the employment actions of its franchisees is fair warning.

            The NLRB’s General Counsel has “found merit” in charges that McDonald’s and some of its franchisees “violated the rights of employees,” according to a NLRB press release.  “If the parties cannot reach settlement in these cases, complaints will issue and McDonald’s USA LLC will be named as a joint employer respondent.”

            Another warning comes in the NLRB’s current consideration of the relationship between companies and on-site contractors.  The case involves a company and its on-site service contractor.  A union is trying to have the company declared a joint employer who must participate in the collective bargaining between the contractor and the union.  The case is pending. 

             If these views stand, it isn’t a far reach to see how an organization could be held responsible for the employment actions of food service and other contractors on its premises.

             The U.S. Department of Labor, other regulators and labor unions have long tried to tie the host company or institutions to its service companies’ employees as a joint employer.  Sometimes, the host has made it easy to be linked – and held responsible financially – for actions over which it has, at best, only indirect control.

            The NLRB defines joint employment as when “two entities . . . share or co-determine those matters governing the essential terms and conditions of employment [including] matters relating to the employment relationship such as hiring, firing, discipline, supervision and direction.”

            When an organization requires its onsite food service contractor to submit candidates for key management positions and makes the selection itself, it’s opening the door to a finding that it is a joint employer.

            Other actions organizations often take that can lead to a finding that it is a joint employer with its on-site contractor include:

            • Negotiating with the contractor over the wage rates, pay raises and benefits the contractor offers its employees working on the premises.

            • Directing the contractor to promote, demote, transfer or take another action affecting one or more of the contractor’s employees.

            • Telling the contractor what hours its employees should work, rather than what hours of service to provide.

            • Paying bonuses or making other payments to the contractor’s employees or authorizing the contractor to make the payments and reimbursing the expense.

            • Treating the contractor’s employees as “members of the family” with privileges the same as, or similar to, those of its own employees – access to the on-site fitness center, for example.

            The basic defense against a claim of a joint employer relationship is a strong, clear statement in the operating contract that the contractor is the sole employer and has sole authority over all aspects of its employment relationships.    But if management interferes, even indirectly, in the actions of its on-site contractor related to the contractor’s employees and their wages, working conditions and the like, then the barrier created in the contract crumbles.
Clarion Group can analyze your dining and hospitality services and contractual relationship with your provider to help you avoid creating a joint employer relationship -- and improve operational and financial performance of you services.  For information, contact Tom Mac Dermott, president (603/642-8011 or and visit our website,

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Ensure Your Food Service Operating Contract Protects Your Interests

The managers of corporate and campus food services and related hospitality services often make a mistake when they outsource these services by accepting the vendor’s "standard contract." Based on our experience, we recommend that you don’t accept this contract. It’s one-sided and not in your favor.

This isn’t the same situation as renting a car or buying a computer program where your options are take it or leave it. A food service contract, worth from several hundred thousand to many millions of dollars in sales, is much more important to the vendor than an individual customer is to a car rental company.

When we’re helping a Clarion Group client select a food service operator, we turn the tables and present the vendor with our "standard contract." We draft the contract in collaboration with our client’s attorney to ensure it’s fair to the vendor, but clearly delineates the vendor’s responsibilities and fully protects our client’s interests.

We’ve developed our contract format over two decades of food service consulting and adapt it to each client’s specific circumstances. Then we negotiate the final terms and conditions with the vendor, with our client’s participation and final approval.

Food service operating agreements used to be simple two- or three-page documents, but changing times and circumstances in the food service industry, government regulations and other factors have dictated that these agreements be much more detailed.

Important points to be included in a food service management contract, often omitted in the contractor’s proposed form:
  • The vendor’s responsibilities should be clearly defined and the vendor should agree to perform its services to a high standard, defined as clearly as possible.
  • The vendor should be an independent contractor, solely responsible for its employees and for its actions and not able to act as an agent for the client company. (If the vendor makes purchases or other commitments as the client’s agent, the client can be held liable for the vendor’s unpaid debts or other commitments.)
  • The vendor has sole responsibility for the food it serves, from the farm field to the diner’s plate. Its program for ensuring the food it serves is wholesome, healthy and safe for consumption should be clearly described in the operating contract.
  • Financial terms should be unambiguous, including the contractor’s responsibility for producing accurate operating statements promptly and providing satisfactory supporting material for its claims for reimbursement of costs. A contractor can produce financial statements within 10 days of an accounting period’s end date.
  • Contractors receive rebate payments from their vendors, which they keep as additional income and do not disclose to clients. We have negotiated for our clients to receive a share of these rebates.
  • The contract should be enforceable in your home state, not the vendor’s.
These are just highlights of the terms a food service contract should include. In our role as consultants, we level the playing field for our clients in their dealings with food service contractors because we know the players, their tactics and objectives. We ensure our clients have comprehensive, fair and enforceable contracts to guide their relations with their on-site service operators.

To learn how Clarion Group can ensure the operating agreement with your current or future food service contractor can be both fair to both you and the operator and fully protect your interests, contact us at or call Tom Mac Dermott, president, at 603/642-8011. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Proposed OT Regulations Will Upset Management Structures

Food service operators who are worrying about a possible increase in the minimum wage are looking in the wrong direction.

The federal government’s proposal to tighten regulations on exemptions from overtime pay has received little attention, but if implemented, will have a far greater and more immediate impact on corporate and campus food service operations that an increase in the minimum wage.

Operators will have to rethink and restructure their on-site food service management teams.

In March, President Obama directed the Department of Labor to revise the regulations covering the minimum salary level that exempts an employee with some supervisory responsibility from receiving time-and-a-half pay for work performed over 40 hours in a week. Currently, the minimum is $455 a week or $23,660 a year. Proposals for the new minimum are as high as $984 a week or $51,168 a year.

In contrast, the impact of a raise in the federal minimum wage from the current $7.25 to a proposed $10.10 an hour – when it happens – will be minimal. The minimum wage increase will be phased in over two or three years, cushioning its impact. Many states have already raised their minimum wages and federal contractors must pay at least $10.10 an hour. Few food service employees are paid less than $8.00 an hour now.

Federal law permits an employer to pay employees who have some supervisory responsibilities, such as overseeing two or three other employees and exercising some independent judgment in the performance of their duties, on a salaried basis. They aren’t compensated for hours worked beyond 40 in a week.

In a food service operation, these would be chef-managers, chefs who oversee other food preparation workers, assistant managers and many supervisor positions, such as shift leaders. Many of these positions don’t pay much more than the $23,660 minimum to qualify. When that minimum is raised, even to $35,000 or $40,000 a year, persons in those positions will no longer be exempt from time-and-a-half pay. Operators will have to raise salaries, redefine salaried positions or begin paying for overtime work on an hourly basis.

What ever course operators choose, their labor cost will rise, much more than it will when the minimum wage is increased.

Latest Dining Insights Issue Published

The Spring issue of Dining Insights is at the printer and ready to go, featuring . . .

Trends to watch, from sales and food cost to distributor mergers, technology and greener greenness.

Proposed OT regs will hit food services, changing the rules for lower-paid managers.

Fresh, local foods, how they get from farm to your fork.

Miss Dancing Waters' diamond toenail and your food service vendor.

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