BEST PRACTICES – DON’T USE THE COMPUTER FOR PERSONAL MATTERS
If you follow best practices as a franchisee, you will never use the computer for personal matters. It is tempting and far more convenient, but extremely dangerous. Most franchise agreements give the franchisor “unfettered” access to your computer and all information on it. If you email your sister complaining about how the franchisor treated you, the franchisor has the right to read it, and you should assume they will.
We see this when prospective clients email us describing, often in detail, possible wrongdoing by the franchisor. We advise them to use a different email address on a different device. However, the private nature of emails may not always be as clear as an attorney-client communication. An email to or from your doctor, your minister, your mother, your banker, or your best friend may be things you regard as private. An email about your health, the health of someone else, about an employee or relative, your concerns about the business or about the franchisor probably are things you do not want your franchisor to read. Those are all conversations that tend to be unguarded and candid and we tend to not think about the legal consequences of the information getting into the wrong hands. One franchisee was accused of “planning” to purchase goods from unauthorized sources, and most likely the franchisor learned about it by monitoring emails.
Even if you have a separate email account, if you access email using a device the franchisor has access to, the device will generally retain a copy. We suggest that franchisees never use their business device(s) or accounts for personal purposes. Likewise, you should never use your personal email account or personal device for business purposes. If you do, the franchisor probably has the right to require you to provide “unfettered” access to your personal device. It may be inconvenient (at least at the beginning), but it could prove to be well worth it to carry a small laptop or tablet (or large smart phone) in your pocket, purse or briefcase-and use it only for personal matters and never for business.
It is best if the franchisor, your employees and vendors do not even have your personal email address. In most cases, using a personal address for business purposes is a breach of your agreement. In all cases, co-mingling the accounts could result in the franchisor demanding access to your personal account, especially if there is ever a disagreement.
All of this sounds complicated, but there may be relatively easy ways to implement a separation. Before you open your franchise if possible, or otherwise as soon as possible, you should speak with an experienced franchisee attorney about what separations and protections are right for you.