On June 20, 2023, the New York Assembly passed a bill already passed by the Senate banning all post-employment noncompete agreements with workers. The bill is headed to Governor Kathy Hochul’s office for her approval. Governor Hochul has voiced her support for a much narrower, income-targeted ban on noncompetes, but she has not previously voiced support for this broad a measure. While it is possible she may decline to sign the ban and insist upon amendments, many expect her to sign it, particularly given the overwhelming vote it received in both legislative houses.
More specific details of the noncompete agreement ban include:
The ban has no compensation threshold or exception for executives.
The ban covers all employees and independent contractors (and, through the vague definition of “covered individual,” may include other service providers/consultants and even workers who are partners, members, or other equityholders).
The ban appears focused on only traditional noncompetition agreements, despite the odd prefatory language stating, “Every contract by which anyone is restrained from engaging in a lawful profession, trade, or business of any kind is to that extent void.” The sentence that follows that pronouncement focuses on “non-compete agreement” (the defined term in the act); and the act expressly indicates that it is not intended to apply to certain non-solicitation provisions, confidentiality agreements, and agreements providing for a “fixed term of service,” provided that those agreements “do not otherwise restrict competition in violation of” the act.
The ban appears not to be retroactive since the bill it is amending states, “This act shall take effect on the thirtieth day after it shall have become a law and shall be applicable to contracts entered into or modified on or after such effective date,” and comments on the floor of the Assembly during last week’s debate and vote confirm that.
Yes, the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) General Counsel (“GC”) says virtually all non-compete agreements are illegal. However, although this is the GC’s strong personal view, she does not directly make the law or establish precedent—NLRB action is still required to start that process. Even if the NLRB acts, the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) only covers non-supervisory employees. This is something to monitor, but not something that should cause you to automatically refrain from strategic and reasonable use of non-compete agreements. And, yes, it coincidentally aligns with the proposed rule from the Federal Trade Commission (see our prior alert here).
Though employers uniformly do not enjoy listening to the ruminations of NLRB GC Jennifer Abruzzo, it is clear that all employers need to pay very close attention to what she says and how she says it. The latest off-the-wall proclamation came in a May 30 memorandum, where she asserted her position that non-compete provisions contained in employment contracts and severance agreements nearly always violate federal labor law by preventing former employees from working for competitors. Notably, she previewed this position in March when she issued another memo providing “guidance” on severance agreement provisions in the wake of the NLRB’s McLaren Macomb decision (see our prior blog post here).
The Ban on Non-Compete Agreements Amendment Act of 2020 (the “Act”) passed by the D.C. Council over the summer will take effect on October 1, 2022, imposing new substantive and procedural restrictions on D.C. employers’ use of noncompetes, new compensation thresholds below which such noncompetes are now banned, and creating new administrative and civil enforcement measures, including administrative penalties for noncompliance.
The New Law in a Nutshell
The Act defines “noncompete provision” as “a provision in a written agreement or a workplace policy that prohibits an employee from performing work for another for pay or from operating the employee’s own business.” Consequently, the law covers both agreements containing noncompetes and workplace policies restricting employee’s competitive or outside activities, subject to several exceptions summarized below.
Most notably, the Act imposes two new income thresholds for “noncompete provisions” with “highly compensated employees”—those who earn at least $150,000—and “medical specialists”—licensed physicians earning at least $250,000. Both thresholds are subject to adjustments in accordance with increases in the Consumer Price Index beginning in 2024, and any “noncompete provisions” with employees below those levels are effectively banned by the Act.
The Act clarifies that wages, salary, bonuses or other cash incentives, commissions, overtime premiums, vested stock and restricted stock units, and other payments provided on a regular or irregular basis may all be included in determining who qualifies as a “highly compensated employee.” The Act excludes the value of noncash fringe benefits, but because it does not define “fringe benefits,” there is uncertainty as to what noncash benefits may constitute “other payments provided on a regular or irregular basis.”
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Earlier this year, Washington, D.C.’s mayor signed legislation, the “Ban on Non-Compete Agreements Amendment Act of 2020” (the “Act”), which imposes sweeping limitations on during-employment and post-employment non-compete agreements for employees in the District of Columbia. We previously reported on this legislation.
Although the Act stated that it was to take effect following its publication in the District of Columbia Register, it also included the following provision: “This act shall apply upon the date of inclusion of its fiscal effect in an approved budget and financial plan.”
In other words, notwithstanding the Act’s definition of an earlier effective date, the Act was not slated to go into effect until the date it was included in D.C.’s 2022 budget—referred to as the “applicability date”—which most expected to occur by October 1, 2021. Shortly after passage, there were rumblings that Council members were considering amendments to the law—ranging from, among other things, a delay in the applicability date to exemptions for bona fide conflict of interest policies to income thresholds for the ban on non-competes, as opposed to an outright ban.
On August 10, 2021, the D.C. Council approved a budget—signed by D.C.’s mayor on August 23, 2021—that delays the applicability date of the Act until April 1, 2022. This postponement is significant because the Act’s limitations on non-competes is not retroactive, which provides employers with more time to continue to enter into non-compete agreements that satisfy the existing standards for determining the enforceability of non-compete restrictions rather than the far more limiting standards included in the Act.
Time will tell whether any substantive amendments materialize and modify the Act’s limitations prior to April 1, 2022.
Late in December 2020, the District of Columbia Council passed legislation titled, “Ban on Non-Compete Agreements Amendment Act of 2020” (the “Act”), barring the use of non-compete agreements and workplace policies that restrict D.C. employees from competing with their employers after, and even during, employment. This week, the Mayor signed the law. Barring an unlikely intervention by Congress (which has authority to review legislation passed by the D.C. Council), the law will take effect after the 30-day Congressional review period.
This Act follows a recent, growing trend to limit the use of non-competes, but it goes further than other recent legislative efforts: it applies to employees at all income levels and even bars the use of “during-employment” non-competes and workplace policies such as those aimed at preventing disloyalty and abuse of company resources. Several key areas warrant emphasis.
Ban Applies to Employees Performing Work in D.C. for Employers that Operate in D.C.
The Act applies to “employees,” defined as any “individual who performs work in the [District of Columbia] on behalf of an employer and any prospective employee who an employer reasonably anticipates will perform work on behalf of the employer in the [District of Columbia].” The term “employer” is defined as “an individual, partnership, general contractor, subcontractor, association, corporation, or business trust operating in the District, or any person or group of persons acting directly or indirectly in the interest of an employer operating in the District in relation to an employee, including a prospective employer.”
If you’re an employer in Maryland, beginning October 1, 2019, you are prohibited from requiring a low wage worker (defined as someone earning less than $15/hour or less than $31,200/year) to sign a non-compete agreement with your company. Maryland’s law follows a national trend in which a number of other states have either passed or are considering similar legislation. Among those states that have already passed legislation preventing employers from enforcing non-compete agreements with lower paid employees are Illinois, Maine, and New Hampshire.
We wrote an earlier post about the Third Circuit’s opinion in ADP, LLC v. Rafferty, et al., confirming courts’ blue penciling authority (seehere); but the Third Circuit’s analysis of ADP’s two-tiered restrictive covenant structure is also worth discussing, as it may have employers doing some head scratching.
Why the focus on ADP’s two-tiered contracting approach?
ADP’s first-tier agreements for new hires included confidentiality obligations and a one-year customer non-solicit tailored to the employee’s assigned role and contacts, but no non-compete. ADP’s second-tier agreements (used in connection with stock incentives offered to high-performing employees) added a one-year territory-based non-compete and broadened the scope of the one-year non-solicit to include all customers and business partners for which ADP has provided services and all prospects for which ADP reasonably expects to provide services during the two-year period following the employee’s termination—regardless of the employee’s responsibility for them or access to confidential information about them during employment. Continue reading “Third Circuit Indicates Support for Use of Broader Restrictive Covenants in Post-Hire Agreements Rather Than a Uniform Approach at Hiring”
On April 26, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit weighed in on a pair of district court rulings which had denied ADP, LLC’s requests for preliminary injunctive relief against two former employees who ADP alleged had violated post-employment restrictive covenants. In ADP, LLC v. Rafferty, et al., the Court unanimously reversed the rulings and remanded to the district courts with instructions to “blue pencil the agreements and reconsider the four-factor preliminary injunction standard” as it relates to the former employees’ non-competition and customer non-solicitation obligations. The Third Circuit’s opinion restates what has long been the law in New Jersey and clarifies for anyone still in doubt that “New Jersey has evolved from invalidating overbroad restrictive covenants outright to presumptively ‘compress[ing] or reduc[ing]’ their scope ‘so as to render the covenant reasonable’” (alterations in original; citations omitted).
Countless companies contract with other companies to provide services and include a “no hire” provision (pursuant to which the parties to the contract agree to not hire employees of the contracting company) in the service contract. The goal of these provisions is to prevent the contractual business partner from raiding the other’s talent—at least not without paying a fee.
In what the Court acknowledged was the first test of this issue in Pennsylvania, earlier this month the Superior Court invalidated a “no hire” agreement between companies—even though they were not competitors. The Court reasoned that companies may enter into agreements barring solicitation of customers, but they cannot agree to “no hire” provisions. Non-compete agreements between employer and employee are still valid, but not via company-to-company “no hire” clauses. Continue reading “We Are Hiring: PA Superior Court Upends the Law on “No Hire” Agreements”
California employers know well that they cannot restrict their former employees from competing after the employment relationship ends. With limited exceptions, California law invalidates every contract under which a person is prevented from engaging in his or her profession, trade, or business.
California Business and Professions Code section 16600 codifies California’s longstanding public policy favoring open and uninhibited competition in the employment context. California’s public policy declaration can be summed up as follows: “The interests of the employee in his own mobility and betterment are deemed paramount to the competitive business interests of the employers….” Diodes, Inc. v. Franzen, 260 Cal. App. 2d 244, 255 (1968). Continue reading ““In Term” Covenants Not to Compete Void or Valid?”