• Posts by Erik W. Weibust
    Member of the Firm

    Companies of all sizes and in various industries call upon attorney Erik Weibust for his practical and thoughtful advice—and his aggressive representation in high-stakes trade secret, non-compete, and commercial litigation.

Blogs
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In a bombshell ruling last year that upended longstanding Delaware law, the Delaware Chancery Court ruled in Ainslie v. Cantor Fitzgerald, L.P., 2023 WL 106924 (Del. Ch. Jan. 4, 2023), that forfeiture-for-competition clauses, under which departing employees must forfeit certain long-term incentive compensation if they join a competitor, are akin to post-employment noncompetes and other restraints of trade.  As a result, the Chancery Court determined these forfeiture provisions should be analyzed under a reasonableness standard rather than the employee choice doctrine ...

Blogs
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2023 started off with a bang, and it is certainly not ending with a whimper. On January 4, 2023, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced the settlement of two enforcement actions against employers arising out of their use and enforcement of noncompetes. The very next day, the FTC proposed a rule that would ban noncompetes nationwide if enacted (which we do not believe will ever happen), with only a very narrow exception for noncompetes entered into in connection with the sale of a business.

The year only continued to get more turbulent in this area of law, with Minnesota banning ...

Blogs
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As we predicted when the New York legislature passed a bill that would ban noncompetes in the state without even an exception for the sale of a business, Governor Kathy Hochul has said that she wants changes to the bill – called chapter amendments – before she will sign it. According to Bloomberg, Governor Hochul told reporters, “What I’m looking at right now is striking the right balance between protecting low and middle-income workers, giving them flexibility to have mobility to go from job to job as they continue up the ladder of success. But those who are successful have a lot ...

Blogs
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As federal administrative agencies wade further into rulemaking and adjudicative efforts to outlaw noncompetes and restrictive covenants, defendants are beginning to raise preemption arguments in response to state court breach of contract claims on the topic.

A recent case shows defendants are taking things into their own hands and not waiting for the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) to conclude its announced rulemaking on the subject or for the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) to rule on the NLRB General Counsel’s stated position that nearly all noncompetes ...

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Thomson Reuters Practical Law has released the 2023 update to “Non-Compete Laws: Massachusetts,” a Q&A guide to non-compete agreements between employers and employees for private employers in Massachusetts, authored by our colleagues David J. Clark and Erik Weibust, attorneys at Epstein Becker Green.

Following is an excerpt:

This Q&A addresses enforcement and drafting considerations for restrictive covenants such as post-employment covenants not to compete and non-solicitation of customers and employees. Federal, local, or municipal law may impose ...

Blogs
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As we have previously discussed, the National Labor Relations Board’s General Counsel is seeking to invalidate noncompete agreements on the untested legal theory that they violate the National Labor Relations Act. The NLRB recently fired its latest salvo in those efforts to outlaw noncompetes.

 On September 1, 2023, the Regional Director of Region 9 of the NLRB, located in Cincinnati, Ohio, issued a Consolidated Complaint against Harper Holdings, LLC d/b/a Juvly Aesthetics (the “Company”), alleging that the Company maintains unlawful noncompete provisions in ...

Blogs
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We wrote previously about how nobody seemed to be talking seriously about the noncompete bill that was passed by both the New York General Assembly and Senate last month. If signed by Governor Hochul, the bill would ban noncompetes without a carveout even in the sale of a business context, which both California and the Federal Trade Commission’s proposed rule include.

Blogs
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As we wrote almost exactly a year ago – months before the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued its proposed noncompete rule – the Supreme Court’s decision in West Virginia v. EPA made it clear that the FTC does not have the authority to use its rulemaking powers to ban (or otherwise regulate) noncompetition agreements because it does not have “clear congressional authorization” to do so. The Supreme Court’s decision last week striking down the current Administration’s student loan forgiveness plan further confirms that the Supreme Court would likely strike down any noncompete rule promulgated by the FTC under the Major Questions Doctrine. See Biden v. Nebraska, 600 U.S. __ (June 30, 2023).

Blogs
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On June 21, 2023, the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis issued a report entitled “New data on non-compete contracts and what they mean for workers” that calls into question the assumptions made by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in its recent rulemaking efforts.[1]

The report begins by stating what we have been saying for a long time: that “relatively little survey evidence [is] available” about the actual effect of noncompetes on workers. In other words, it is not that there is substantial evidence that noncompetes help workers (although there are studies showing that they can in certain circumstances), but rather that the data is slim and, contrary to what the FTC and the media might lead the public to believe, there is likewise not settled evidence that noncompetes harm workers. As the Minnesota Fed points out, “[t]he recent explosion of public discussion about non-competes has made clear the need for better and more systematic data collection.”

Blogs
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Earlier this year, legislation was proposed in New York that would effectively ban all post-employment noncompetes. Few paid close attention to the proposals, ostensibly because similar legislation is proposed virtually every year in states across the country, including in New York, and typically nothing comes of it (Minnesota being the major exception, having recently passed a noncompete ban that goes into effect July 1, 2023).

Blogs
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The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has found its first target under recent guidance issued in a memo from its General Counsel claiming that noncompete agreements may violate the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). According to Bloomberg Law, “[t]he NLRB’s first enforcement action against an employer’s noncompete agreement targeted a Michigan cannabis processor and ended with a recent private settlement resolving the alleged labor law violations.” (The enforcement action predates the guidance memo). Bloomberg obtained redacted documents from the case via a Freedom of Information Act request.

Blogs
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As expected, on May 24, 2023, Governor Tim Walz signed a new law banning noncompete agreements in Minnesota.  The ban will be effective for such agreements entered on or after July 1, 2023.

By enacting the Omnibus Jobs, Economic Development, Labor and Industry appropriations bill (MN SF 30035), Minnesota becomes only the fourth state (along with California, Oklahoma and North Dakota) to ban noncompetes. 

Blogs
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FTC Commissioner Christine Wilson, published an Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal today in which she announced her resignation from the FTC and explained her reasoning. Readers may recall that Commissioner Wilson was the lone dissenting voice on the FTC’s proposed rule banning noncompetes nationwide.

Blogs
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The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has announced that it will be hosting a public forum on February 16, 2022, from 12:00-3:00 p.m. ET, to discuss its proposed nationwide noncompete ban. The forum is intended to supplement the FTC’s request for written comments, which as of today have exceeded 10,000. According to the FTC, “[t]he commission will hear from a series of speakers who have been subjected to noncompete restrictions, as well as business owners who have experience with noncompetes.” It is unclear whether any of the “business owners who have experience with ...

Blogs
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Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Todd Young (R-IN) introduced legislation on February 1, 2023 entitled the Workforce Mobility Act (the “Act”). This bill has been introduced previously, but never made it out of committee.

Blogs
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As we predicted, earlier today, 100 industry organizations submitted a request to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to extend the comment period for its proposed rule banning noncompetes nationwide by an additional 60 days. According to the letter, “[t]he regulated community should be given sufficient time to assess the potential consequences of the rulemaking and develop insightful comments for the Commission to consider.” The letter further states:

Blogs
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As previously reported, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) proposed a rule on January 5, 2023, that would ban noncompetes nationwide. There are serious questions about the FTC’s authority to promulgate such a rule and many practical reasons why such a sweeping approach is unwarranted—in particular at the federal level. The period for submitting formal comments to the proposed rule lasts 60 days following publication of the proposed rule in the Federal Register. The FTC did not file the proposed rule with the Federal Register until January 18, 2023, and it will not be published until January 19, 2023, meaning that the comment period will end on March 20, 2023—not March 10, 2023, as the FTC initially announced. We are told that there will be a formal request to extend the comment period for an additional 60 days, or until May 19, 2023, and that the FTC is likely to grant the request.

Blogs
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“Practices that three unelected bureaucrats find distasteful will be labeled with nefarious adjectives and summarily condemned, with little to no evidence of harm to competition. I fear the consequences for our economy, and for the FTC as an institution”

 – FTC Commissioner Christine S. Wilson

The Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) started 2023 with a bang. In addition to issuing a proposed Rule that would ban post-employment noncompetes nationwide, the FTC announced that it had settled two previously undisclosed enforcement actions and entered into proposed consent orders with three employers based on a novel legal theory.  According to the Complaints filed in each action, the FTC contends that the defendant employers’ use of broad post-employment non-compete agreements constituted “unfair methods of competition” in violation of Section 5 of the FTC Act. Unfortunately, the timing of the announcement of these enforcement actions—one day before announcing the proposed rule—seems intended to discourage employers from challenging the FTC’s authority to issue rules banning, or otherwise regulating, noncompetes, and to intimidate the business community.

Blogs
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On Thursday, January 5, 2023, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) made headlines with its announcement that it is proposing a new rule that would ban employers from using noncompete clauses (the “rule”).

The rule, as drafted, would prohibit employers throughout the United States from relying on or enforcing covenants to not compete. It is retroactive, further requiring the rescission of any such restrictive covenants currently in existence by an undetermined compliance date (which will be at least 240 days from now, at the earliest). The rule also specifies that the federal regulations would supersede any contradictory state law.

The announcement, while stunning to many, is a development that we anticipated and questioned halfway through 2022 and saw coming by the end of the year.

Blogs
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Perhaps we were wrong. Or perhaps we were just not thinking creatively enough. After President Biden issued his “Executive Order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy,” in which he “encourage[d]” the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to “consider” exercising its statutory rulemaking authority “to curtail the unfair use of non-compete clauses and other clauses or agreements that may unfairly limit worker mobility,” we assumed that Lina Khan, the 33-year-old Biden-appointed Chair of the FTC (and a vocal opponent of noncompetes), would take the torch and propose a Rule prohibiting, or at the very least severely limiting, the use of noncompetes. And she may still do so.

Blogs
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It is no secret that the Department of Justice (DOJ) has been largely unsuccessful in the criminal no poach cases it has brought to trial to date. Its most public loss came with the acquittals earlier this year of DaVita, a dialysis company, and certain of its executives in the District of Colorado. DOJ also lost at trial in another high-profile case in the Eastern District of Texas involving a physical therapy staffing company (although it secured a conviction against a company executive for obstruction of justice). But DOJ has pressed on, claiming victories at the motion to dismiss stage. Indeed, following its recent trial losses, Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Kanter, who leads the DOJ’s antitrust division, had this to say:

Blogs
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It’s no secret that the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) has been struggling financially for well over a decade. One means of combatting its struggles has been to contract with third-party resellers to market USPS services and drive customers to it. Indeed, just one of those resellers, Express One, delivered over $3 billion in revenue to the USPS in the past 12 months alone. Although the annual operating budget of the USPS is $77 billion, $3 billion is still real money—especially since the USPS suffered losses of $6.9 billion last year.

Blogs
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“The law is not a game, and . . . civil discovery is not a game of hide and seek. The decision in this case should encourage litigants to understand that it is risky business to recklessly or deliberately fail to produce documents, and perilous to disobey court orders to review and, if necessary, supplement prior productions. It is in the interests of the administration of justice to default [defendants] to send those messages.”

So said United States District Judge Mark L. Wolf in a 72-page decision in which he entered a default judgment as a sanction in a trade secret case against the defendants for what he referred to as “extreme misconduct.” Memorandum and Order on Plaintiff’s Motion for Sanctions, Red Wolf Energy Trading, LLC v. BIA Capital Mgmt., LLC, et al., C.A. No. 19-10119-MLW (D. Mass. Sept. 8, 2022).

Blogs
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As our antitrust colleagues explained recently, on August 26, 2022, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) published its “Strategic Plan for Fiscal Years 2022–2026,” as required under the GPRA Modernization Act of 2010.  Readers of this blog will be interested in two small, but important, items in the Strategic Plan related to noncompete agreements.

First, under “Objective 2.1: Identify, investigate, and take actions against anticompetitive mergers and business practices,” the FTC opines that “[a]nticompetitive mergers and business practices harm Americans through higher prices, lower wages, or reduced quality, choice, and innovation. Enforcement of antitrust laws provides substantial benefits to the public by helping to ensure that markets are open and competitive.” It then identifies certain “[s]trategies” that the FTC intends to pursue over the next five years, including “[i]ncreas[ing] use of provisions to improve worker mobility including restricting the use of non-compete provisions.” It’s unclear exactly what provisions it intends to increase its use of, but nonetheless the FTC will be focused on the issue.

Blogs
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As we have previously reported, the Colorado Assembly passed sweeping changes to the state’s noncompete law that, among other things, (1) set compensation floors for enforcement of both noncompetes ($101,250) and customer non-solicitation agreements ($60,750), which will be adjusted annually based on inflation; (2) require a separate, standalone notice to employees before a new or prospective worker accepts an offer of employment, or at least 14 days before the earlier of: (a) the effective date of the restrictions, or (b) the effective date of any additional compensation or changes in the terms or conditions of employment that provide consideration for the restriction, for existing workers; and (3) prohibit the inclusion of out-of-state choice-of-law and venue provisions. Those amendments take effect today, August 10, 2022.

Compliance with these amendments is even more important due to a prior amendment, effective earlier this year, which provides that violations of Colorado’s noncompete law can subject employers to criminal liability (a Class 2 misdemeanor, which carries possible punishment of 120 days in prison, a $750 fine per violation, or both), as well as hefty fines and possible injunctive relief and attorneys’ fees to aggrieved workers.

Blogs
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As readers of this blog likely know, many states have entirely different statutory schemes for noncompetes in the healthcare industry. Indeed, while 47 states generally permit noncompetes, more than a dozen expressly prohibit or limit them in certain sectors of the healthcare industry – typically for patient-facing clinicians.

For example, in Massachusetts, noncompetes are not permissible in “[a]ny contract or agreement which creates or establishes the terms of a partnership, employment, or any other form of professional relationship with a physician registered to practice medicine . . . , which includes any restriction of the right of such physician to practice medicine in any geographic area for any period of time after the termination of such partnership, employment or professional relationship.” The same restriction applies to Massachusetts nurses, psychologists, and social workers.

Blogs
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Despite the Supreme Court’s recent 6-3 ruling in West Virginia v. EPA that regulatory agencies must have “clear congressional authorization” to make rules pertaining to “major questions” that are of “great political significance” and would affect “a significant portion of the American economy,” and the import of that ruling to the area of noncompete regulation (which we addressed in detail in Law360), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) announced yesterday that they are teaming up to address certain issues affecting the labor market, including the regulation of noncompetes.

In a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) issued on July 19, 2022, the FTC and NRLB shared their shared view that:

Blogs
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As we previously reported, the Colorado General Assembly passed a bill in May making substantial amendments to Colorado’s noncompete statute, C.R.S. § 8-2-113. Governor Jared Polis signed the bill on June 8, 2022, meaning the amendments will go into effect at 12:01 a.m. on August 10, 2022, which is only four weeks away. That may sound like a long time, but it will go by quickly.

Blogs
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Several states over the past few years have passed legislation prohibiting the use in noncompete agreements (and other employment-related agreements) of out-of-state choice-of-law and forum selection provisions. A few of these states’ laws include enforcement mechanisms with stringent penalties, such as California, which provides for injunctive relief and attorneys’ fees to an aggrieved employee; Washington, which entitles aggrieved employees to actual damages or statutory penalties of $5,000, as well as their attorneys’ fees; and, beginning in August, Colorado, where any violation of that state’s noncompete statute (including the prohibition on out-of-state choice-of-law and forum selection provisions) could lead to civil and criminal penalties.

Blogs
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Exchange Act Rule 21F-17, adopted in 2011 under the auspices of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, prohibits any person from taking any action to impede an individual from communicating directly with the SEC, including by “enforcing, or threatening to enforce, a confidentiality agreement . . . .”  The SEC has prioritized enforcing this rule expansively, by requiring employers to provide SEC-specific carveouts to policies and agreements governing confidentiality.  According to an Order issued last week against The Brink’s Company ( “Brink’s” or “Brinks”), the SEC seems to suggest that employers must provide a specific carveout in restrictive covenant agreements permitting employees and former employees to report information to the SEC in addition to the statutory disclosure provided for in the federal Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA).

Blogs
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As readers of this blog are aware, many states now require employers to provide prospective employees with copies of any noncompetes (and, in some cases, other restrictive covenants) they will be required to sign as a condition of employment. For example, Massachusetts requires that noncompetes be provided at the earlier of when an offer is made or 10 business days before the first day of employment; in Illinois it is 14 calendar days before employment begins; in Maine it is three days; in New Hampshire and Washington a noncompete must simply be provided before an employee’s acceptance of an offer; in Oregon and Rhode Island it is two weeks before employment begins; and beginning August 9, 2022, Colorado will require not only that both noncompete and non-solicitation covenants be provided to employees at least 14 days before the effective date of employment, but a separate standalone notice must be provided as well.

Blogs
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You don’t hear much positive news these days about noncompete agreements. Instead, most national media outlets take cases of extreme abuse and frame them as the norm instead of the outliers that they are. And the national media also often portrays employers in a negative light for allegedly forcing noncompetes on employees who purportedly have no choice in the matter and receive no benefit from the transaction. The data does not bear this out—indeed, according to reputable studies, workers who are presented with noncompetes before accepting jobs receive higher wages and more training, and are more satisfied in their jobs than those who are not bound by noncompetes—but that is beside the point when there is an attention-grabbing story to be written.

Blogs
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Microsoft Corp. announced last week that it is immediately eliminating noncompetes for all employees below the partner and executive levels, including doing away with all existing noncompetes for covered employees. In a June 8, 2022 blog post, Microsoft’s Deputy General Counsel and Vice President of Human Resources said the following:

Empowering employee mobility: Microsoft believes that all employees should be empowered to work at a company they love and in a role where they thrive. We work hard to retain our world-class talent by making people the priority, and creating a culture that attracts and inspires world-class talent to unlock innovation aligned to our mission. While our existing employee agreements have noncompete obligations, we do not endorse the use of such provisions as a retention tool. We have heard concerns that the noncompetition clauses in some U.S. employee agreements, even when rarely and reasonably enforced, feel at odds with our talent principles. With these concerns in mind, we are announcing that we are removing noncompetition clauses from our U.S. employee agreements, and will not enforce existing noncompetition clauses in the U.S., with the exception of Microsoft’s most senior leadership (Partners and Executives), effective today. In practice, what this means is those U.S. employees will not be restricted by a noncompete clause in seeking employment with another company who may be considered a Microsoft competitor. All employees remain accountable to our standards of business conduct and other obligations to protect Microsoft’s confidential information. (Emphasis added).

Blogs
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According to a report in the Wall Street Journal last week, the Federal Trade Commission is considering new regulations to prohibit the use of noncompetes and to target their use in individual cases through enforcement actions. Although President Biden issued a vague Executive Order early in his administration that “encourage[d]” the FTC to “consider” exercising its statutory rulemaking authority “to curtail the unfair use of non-compete clauses and other clauses or agreements that may unfairly limit worker mobility,” no concrete action has been taken to date. That is not entirely surprising given that, until last month, the Commission was split 2-2 along partisan lines. What has since changed that may now make federal noncompete regulation a real possibility, however, is the appointment last month of Alvaro Bedoya to the FTC, giving the Democrats a 3-2 majority.

Lina Khan, the 33-year-old Biden-appointed Chair of the FTC, told the Wall Street Journal, “We feel an enormous amount of urgency given how much harm is happening against the workers. This is the type of practice that falls squarely in our wheelhouse.” Other Commissioners disagree. Commissioner Noah Phillips has said the agency doesn’t have legal authority to impose such rules, and Commissioner Christine Wilson said last year it was “premature” to pass a federal rule because many states had taken their own actions to address noncompetes. Indeed, noncompete regulation has been the province of the states for over 200 years.

Blogs
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We have written recently about legislative action in various states concerning their restrictive covenant laws, including Washington state’s prohibitions on nondisclosure and nondisparagement provisions in employment agreements, a proposal in Connecticut to codify limitations on noncompetes, and a law passed in Colorado that would limit the use and enforcement of noncompetes and non-solicitation provisions. Another state that is considering new noncompete legislation is New Hampshire.

Blogs
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We wrote recently about a proposed bill that was introduced in the New Jersey State Assembly on May 2, 2022, which would limit certain provisions in restrictive covenants, and a bill that was passed the following day by the Colorado Senate and is expected to go into effect in August that would likewise limit the enforceability of noncompetes and other post-employment restrictive covenants. Not to be left out, members of the Connecticut General Assembly recently introduced House Bill 5249, which would limit the applicability of noncompete agreements in that state as well. The bill is very similar in many respects to the noncompete law passed in 2018 in Massachusetts, and likely borrowed heavily from that law. Here are the details:

Blogs
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We wrote in January about a small change in Colorado law that could have large effects because it criminalized the enforcement of noncompete agreements that violate its general noncompete statute, C.R.S. § 8-2-113. Well, the Colorado General Assembly is at it again. Passed by the Colorado Senate on May 3, 2022, and now awaiting Governor Jared Polis’s signature, HB 22-1317 would further amend C.R.S. § 8-2-113 to substantially limit the enforceability of noncompetes and other restrictive covenants for any workers other than those who are “highly compensated,” as well as ...

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