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It started with a pink slip

Lynn Berberich, owner of a BrightStar Care franchise in Baltimore, describes how regulation can impact even the most personal family decisions.

In 2008 at the start of the Recession, I was one of the millions of Americans handed a pink slip. In that one moment, my 30-year corporate career came to an end and I found myself having to reorient my life and find another way to pay my bills.

While it certainly wasn’t easy, this push into joblessness had a silver lining. I’d always had an entrepreneurial itch and because of experiences in my own family, I decided to venture into home care.

My youngest brother passed away too young from cancer before he was even 40. I took comfort in the fact that he passed peacefully at home surrounded by family and with hospice support. When my father was diagnosed with fatal Lewy body dementia, we struggled to find quality care for him. My grandmother lived to see her 107th birthday, but her aging process was long and she required care for years. The process of finding that care – quality care that’s affordable, home-based and works for families wherever their needs may be – can be an uphill battle. I wanted to make a difference, though, for the individuals and families going through what my own family had been through.

I’d looked at lots of different options for getting into the home care business and quickly realized that the franchising model made the most sense for me, given my age and concerns about managing risk as a first-time business owner. Because of how passionately Shelly Sun, the founder of BrightStar Care, spoke about home care and aging, I knew BrightStar Care was the franchise for me. My Baltimore franchise opened in 2009, and business took off in 2010.

Through my franchise, I’ve created 200 Maryland jobs that weren’t there before. I employ nurses, physical therapists, occupational therapists and Certified Nursing Assistants. Many are single moms advancing their own careers while also helping patients in tangible ways.

The work we do does have its obstacles: We work in a difficult field, partnering with clients through very emotionally and physically draining seasons. But that’s hardly the toughest thing about running and growing this business. Government regulations, because of their sheer volume and overwhelming complexity, take up more of my time than they should. I have to be an expert on labor laws, on unemployment, on health and safety, on workers’ comp issues, the whole gamut. As part of all this, my legal costs have tripled over the last three years.

I truly believe that regulations are well-intentioned, but when “the system” in government impedes my system, something is broken. And when “the system” actually works to discourage business ownership and entrepreneurship, our problems have risen to a whole new level.

I think back on when I first made the choice to open BrightStar Care of Baltimore. The security of the franchise model helped me take that step. I had people who had built a well-respected brand who I could turn to with questions and for best practices. Things are different today because of the way the federal Department of Labor has interpreted the federal joint-employer regulation.

The government basically decided to expand liability for my personal hiring decisions and other employee matters to BrightStar Care as a whole. Rather than respecting me as the owner of my business, they see my franchisor as being just as in charge as I am. That’s not the case. But that perspective – and the threat that it carries – has already changed my business reality and simultaneously removed many of the benefits franchising offered in the first place. Through the fees I paid as a franchisee, I was able to use BrightStar’s integrated applicant tracking system which helped me find great employees. That service, however, has been halted which has slowed my ability hire and expand my business. The same could happen to our payroll system over the next year.

The joint-employer ruling certainly wasn’t meant to impact people like me the way it has, but intentions don’t cancel out painful side effects. These issues are affecting real people – people like me, my employees, my clients and their families. It’s for this exact reason that I came to Washington to testify before the United States Senate in June.

I was looking at purchasing a third territory to expand BrightStar Care, but I put that plan on hold. There’s too much regulatory uncertainty for franchises like me.

We must make sure representatives understand the impact their decisions and the regulations they authorize have on the families and small businesses in your community. 

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