It is well known that franchisors have been facing increasing pressure to conduct themselves in accordance with the principles of good faith. A recent Ontario Superior Court case has led to questions with respect to a franchisor's duty to protect its franchisee's right to operate in circumstances where the franchisor is the gatekeeper of rights with respect to a third party. In its decision, the court navigated the duty of good faith owed in respect of the renewal of a head lease between a franchisor and a landlord.
While some franchised businesses have transitioned to working remotely and have ramped up their e-commerce business models in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the vast majority of traditional franchised businesses are in a precarious state due to a drastic reduction in revenues and uncertain economic conditions for the foreseeable future. This article sets our practical tips and considerations for franchisors and franchisees with respect to navigating COVID-19.
Few areas of contract law have created as much confusion as the nebulous distinction between material breaches, substantial breaches and breaches going to the root of the contract. This distinction is important in a franchise context, where franchise agreements often provide that the franchisor has a right to terminate the franchise agreement for material breach by the franchisee, leaving what constitutes a 'material' breach open for interpretation.
In recent years, many Canadian provinces have adopted franchise-specific disclosure laws with a view to remedying the inequality of bargaining power between franchisors and franchisees. Subject to certain limited exemptions, franchisors must provide prospective franchisees with full and accurate information in respect of all material facts relating to the franchise business before entering into a franchise agreement, failing which franchisees can bring a claim for rescission and damages against the franchisor.
Franchising communities in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada have been eagerly awaiting a Supreme Court of Canada decision on whether an unincorporated franchisee operating a two-person cleaning services business in Quebec as part of a cleaning services franchise network qualified as an employee. While the court's ruling may be worrisome to franchisors in certain industries, there are several mitigating factors to consider.
The Supreme Court of Canada recently reiterated the fact that franchise agreements are relational contracts and are therefore subject to a heightened duty of good faith pursuant to Quebec civil law. This decision is in line with a series of recent Quebec civil law decisions that have broadly interpreted, and arguably extended, the duty of good faith owed by a franchisor to its franchisees.
It has become common practice to include alternative dispute resolution (ADR) provisions in franchise agreements. A recent decision by the Ontario Court of Appeal serves as a stark reminder to franchisors to ensure that ADR provisions contained in a franchise agreement are properly drafted so that the commencement of disputes thereunder triggers the running of the applicable limitation period.
The issue of whether a franchisee is an employee or an independent contractor has been debated on numerous occasions and was once again raised in a recent Quebec Court of Appeal decision. In its decision, the court emphasised that when analysing whether a franchisee qualifies as an employee or an independent contractor, the courts should look beyond the terms of the agreement between the parties. While this decision may worry certain franchisors, there are a number of mitigating factors to consider.
Franchise arrangements often involve a three-way relationship whereby franchisors enter into commercial leases with landlords and then sublease the rented premises to franchisees. Such leases often contain an exclusivity clause limiting the landlord's ability to lease nearby commercial space to competitors of the franchise network. The Superior Court of Quebec recently confirmed that exclusivity clauses must be interpreted and applied restrictively so as not to unduly interfere with the parties' freedom of contract.