WASHINGTON – The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Office of the General Counsel recently ruled that McDonald's is a joint employer and can be held jointly liable for labor law and wage violations committed by its franchisees. McDonald’s said it would fight the decision.

The decision came following an investigation into charges that McDonald's and the chain's franchisees had violated the rights of employees during pro-labor rallies for higher wages for fast-food workers. Some workers who joined in the rallies said they were illegally fired, punished or threatened for participating in the protests.

"The Office of the General Counsel found merit in some of the charges and no merit in others," the NLRB said in its ruling. "The Office of the General Counsel has authorized complaints on alleged violations of the National Labor Relations Act. 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."

News reports state that the ruling, if upheld, could force companies to be more accountable. The ruling could also pressure employers who use subcontractors or temp workers to raise wages.

But Angelo Amador, vice president Labor and Workforce Policy for the National Restaurant Association (NRA), said in a statement that the NLRB's decision "overturns 30 years of established law regarding the franchise model and jeopardizes the businesses of 90 percent of restaurants that are run by independent operators or franchisees.

"The long-established joint-employer standard has helped create millions of restaurant jobs through the franchisor/franchisee model," Amador said. "NLRB’s attempts to overhaul the law will have dire consequences to franchisees, franchise employees and the economy as a whole.

"By making franchisors liable for their franchisees’ employment practices and redefining individually owned franchises as ‘big business,’ NLRB would disrupt the franchisor/franchisee relationship and impede entrepreneurship and restaurants’ ability to continue to create jobs, particularly in an increasingly challenging economic environment," Amador added. "The net effect is counterproductive and will indeed create ‘big business.’"

The NLRB noted that its Office of the General Counsel has investigated 181 cases involving McDonald's filed since November 2012. NLRB found 68 cases had no merit, while 64 cases are currently pending investigation. Another 43 cases have been found to have merit. The agency added that in cases were a complaint has been authorized, McDonald’s franchisees and/or McDonald’s, USA LLC will be named as a respondent if the parties are unable to reach a settlement.