Non-Compete Enforceability

Legislators in the Commonwealth of Virginia, the site of Patrick Henry’s infamous “Give me liberty, or give me death” speech, have enacted legislation that gives more liberty to low-wage workers looking to leave for greener pastures, joining the ranks of many other states that have passed similar restrictions (stay tuned for a post soon on Indiana’s own recently passed non-compete legislation application to physicians). While the new law was passed quietly, it’s not particularly surprising that the Commonwealth sought to join the trend of restricting non-competes for low earners (see for example similar efforts in DC, Maryland, Maine, New Hampshire, Washington, and Massachusetts)—especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic that is sending unemployment rates soaring.
Continue Reading “Give Me Liberty”: Virginia Legislature Passes Law to Exempt Low-Wage Workers from Employment Restrictions

As we have previously reported, courts across the country are adjourning most appearances, including trials, and hearing only “emergency matters” during the current COVID-19 crisis. As a result, obtaining emergency injunctive relief may be more difficult than in normal circumstances. And attempting to obtain injunctive relief to enforce non-compete agreements against employees who are laid off, while permissible in a majority of states, may be particularly difficult now given that we are quickly entering (if not already in) a period of high unemployment. At the same time, some employers are loosening security measures in the name of convenience and efficiency for remote workers, potentially making trade secret misappropriation easier (we have provided tips for avoiding just that). But that does not mean employers are out of luck if an employee (or someone else) misappropriates its trade secrets or steals its customers. Companies that are genuinely and immediately harmed by trade secret misappropriation and breach of restrictive covenants should still seriously consider seeking injunctive relief, particularly if the activity is causing significant harm to their business. Damages are always an available, if not immediate, remedy, however, where injunctive relief may not be practical.
Continue Reading Emergency Injunction Not in the Cards? Damages May Be Your Winning Hand

According to a March 26, 2020, News Release issued by the Department of Labor (“DOL”), initial unemployment claims in the United States soared to a seasonally adjusted 3.3 million the week ending March 21, 2020, the greatest single week increase in recorded history, primarily because of layoffs resulting from COVID-19. Indeed, the DOL reports that:

During the week ending March 21, the increase in initial claims are due to the impacts of the COVID-19 virus. Nearly every state providing comments cited the COVID-19 virus impacts. States continued to cite services industries broadly, particularly accommodation and food services. Additional industries heavily cited for the increases included the health care and social assistance, arts, entertainment and recreation, transportation and warehousing, and manufacturing industries.

Some researchers estimate that as many 1 in 5 US employees are subject to non-compete agreements. This means that, in all likelihood, hundreds of thousands of employees who are subject to non-compete agreements were terminated in the last week or so alone.
Continue Reading Enforcement of Non-Compete Agreements During Times of High Unemployment

In Seyfarth’s first installment in its 2020 Trade Secrets Webinar Series, Seyfarth attorneys Robert Milligan, Jesse Coleman, and Joshua Salinas reviewed the noteworthy legislation, cases, and other legal developments from across the nation over the last year in the area of trade secrets and data theft, non-competes and other restrictive covenants, and computer fraud—plus, predictions

In-house attorneys often wear multiple hats when performing work for private companies. Some of their work clearly falls under the provision of legal services, while others can be less clear quasi-business roles. And when those in-house lawyers who perform non-legal work are asked to sign a non-compete agreement in connection with their employment, questions can arise both as to the enforceability of those agreements and whether an attorney violates the rules of professional conduct by signing such an agreement as we have previously discussed.
Continue Reading Another Decision Addressing Non-Competes for In-House Counsel

Continuing our annual tradition, we have compiled our top developments and headlines for 2019 & 2020 in trade secret, non-compete, and computer fraud law. Here’s what you need to know to keep abreast of the ever-changing law in this area.

1. Another Year, Another Attempt in Congress to Ban Non-Competes Nationwide

Senators Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.) introduced legislation in 2019 entitled the Workforce Mobility Act (“WMA”). The WMA seeks to ban non-compete agreements outside of the sale of a business or dissolution of a partnership.

Not only would the WMA abolish covenants not to compete nationwide, outside of the extremely narrow exceptions highlighted above, but it would also provide the Department of Labor (DOL) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) with broad enforcement power. If enacted, the legislation would empower the FTC and DOL to enforce the ban through fines on employers who either fail to notify employees that non-compete agreements are illegal or who require employees to sign covenants not to compete. Additionally, the WMA establishes a private right of action for all employees allegedly aggrieved by a violation of the WMA.

The WMA contains a carve out for parties to enter into an agreement to protect trade secrets. As currently drafted, the WMA does not abrogate the scope of protections provided by the Defend Trade Secrets Act.

Presently, there are no generally applicable federal restrictions on non-compete agreements, and enacting such a law would have to pass Constitutional muster. We expect to see continued activity at the federal legislative level to attempt to ban or limit the use of non-competes.

2. New State Legislation Regarding Restrictive Covenants


Continue Reading Top 10 Developments and Headlines in Trade Secret, Non-Compete, and Computer Fraud Law for 2019 & 2020

Within the last five months, the two executive arms responsible for enforcing antitrust laws—the US Department of Justice (“DOJ”) and the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”)—held public workshops to examine the effect of non-compete clauses in employment contracts on the labor market. The DOJ held its workshop on September 23, 2019, while the FTC recently held its own at the top of the year, on January 9, 2020. The purpose of the FTC workshop was “to examine whether there is a sufficient legal basis and empirical economic support to promulgate a Commission Rule that would restrict the use of non-compete clauses in employer-employee employment contracts.”

Why the FTC now wants to regulate in the employment space is not readily apparent apart from attempting to capitalize on a low-hanging fruit populist issue concerning the overreporting of some companies allegedly using non-competes with low-wage workers.
Continue Reading A Solution in Search of a Problem? FTC Hosts Workshop to Consider Authority to Abolish Non-Competes

On Tuesday, January 28 at 12:00 p.m. Central, in the first installment of the 2020 Trade Secrets Webinar Series, Seyfarth attorneys will review noteworthy legislation, cases and other legal developments from across the nation over the last year in the area of trade secrets and data theft, non-competes and other restrictive covenants, and computer fraud.

On January 31, 2020, Boston partner Erik Weibust will be speaking at the Practicing Law Institute’s program “Noncompetes and Restrictive Covenants 2020: What Every Lawyer, Human Resources Professional, and Key Strategic Decisionmaker Should Know” in San Francisco. Erik will be speaking a part of a roundtable discussion entitled “Advanced Issues in Noncompete Matters,” which will

Last summer, after a decade of fits and starts, and just minutes before the end of the 2018 legislative session, the Massachusetts legislature finally passed comprehensive non-compete reform, which went into effect on October 1, 2018. It had become almost a sport watching what the legislature would do at the end of each year with that current year’s version of non-compete reform, which ranged from all out bans to merely codifying the common law. (For a recap of the many twists and turns over the years, here is just a smattering of blog posts on the topic)

If you assumed that we would get 2019 off, you would be mistaken. As we pointed out in the pages of Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly and Law360, the 2018 law caused as much confusion as it did clarity, and we predicted that amendments and clarifications would be necessary. And it didn’t take long for the first such clarification to be proposed. 
Continue Reading That Was Quick—Massachusetts Legislature Seeks to Clarify 2018 Non-Compete Law, and to Exempt Physician Assistants