McDonald’s could now be liable for the working conditions of many low wage workers who staff its franchise locations.
The National Labor Relations Board notified the fast food chain Tuesday that it can now be considered a “joint employer” for its workers, the AP reports.
Employees could previously only hold the franchise owners accountable for any misdeeds.
Fast food workers from California, Michigan, and New York sought to change that system in March. They brought suit against McDonald’s, alleging that the chain had underpaid them and illegally erased hours from their timecards, according to The New York Times.
Lawyers for the chain had contended that McDonald’s was not a joint employer and was therefore exempt from liability for the misdeeds of its franchisees, who operate almost all of the 14,000 McDonald’s locations in the United States.
The National Labor Relations Board, however, has overturned that argument.
The decision could open McDonald’s, which operates over 35,000 locations worldwide and generates billions of dollars of revenue every year, up to claims from low wage workers who have demonstrated for higher wages for the last few months.
Fast food workers have staged protests throughout the nation. Some demanded increased minimum wages—particularly after Seattle boosted the wage to $15 per hour during June. But others specifically targeted McDonald’s, the largest employer of low wage workers across the fast food industry.
The wave of protests has swept all the way to Boston, where an eclectic group of professors, cab drivers, and fast food workers rallied during June to pressure large conglomerates like McDonald’s to boost wages and improve living conditions.
Most of those workers were only paid $8 an hour, the current level of the Massachusetts minimum wage, which currently stands only 50 cents more than the national minimum wage. Massachusetts’s minimum wage is set to increase to $9 per hour next year and $11 per hour by 2017 as the result of legislative action.