Legislative efforts to limit or ban the use of non-compete provisions in employment agreements have proliferated in the early months of 2018.
Perhaps most eye-catching was legislation (titled the “Workforce Mobility Act”) introduced in the U.S. Senate in late April 2018 that would prohibit employers from enforcing or threatening to enforce non-compete agreements with employees and require employers to post prominently a notice that such agreements are illegal. Co-sponsored by Democratic Senators Chris Murphy (CT), Elizabeth Warren (MA) and Ron Wyden (OR), the bill envisions the Department of Labor enforcing the non-compete ban by levying fines on employers of $5,000 for each week that a violation of the Act occurs. The bill also provides for a private right of action for workers to pursue damages in federal court. A companion bill was introduced in the House of Representatives. If enacted into law, the Workforce Mobility Act would have sweeping effects in the workforce.
Efforts by state legislatures to curb non-competes have continued apace, but such bills generally are drafted with more limited scope than the Workforce Mobility Act bill. For example, on May 10, 2018, the New Jersey Assembly Labor Committee advanced Assembly Bill A1769, which would bar the use of non-compete agreements with respect to certain types of workers (mostly low-wage workers), and set a one year limit on employee non-compete agreements with respect to employees who are terminated by a company.
Massachusetts legislators have long tried (unsuccessfully so far) to enact legislation restricting non-competes, and they are at it again. On April 17, 2018, Massachusetts House Bill 4419 was introduced, and it seeks, among other things, to prohibit enforcement of non-competes against certain low-wage employees, to limit the geographic and temporal scope of non-competes, and to require employers to provide advance notice to prospective employees if entering into a non-compete is a condition of employment.
Earlier this year, Utah and Idaho passed or amended their statutes dealing with post-employment restrictions on competition. Colorado passed new limitations on non-competes involving physicians.
Employers should stay aware of these legislative efforts regarding non-competes, as they could, if enacted, invalidate some or all of the employers’ non-competition provisions with their employees. In evaluating that possibility, employers should consider whether they are adequately protecting their legitimate business interests in their trade secrets and client relationships through other means as well, such as confidentiality/non-disclosure, non-solicitation agreements, and/or “garden leave” provisions. As Ben Franklin said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”