Dawn Mertineit and Robert Milligan authored an article in the Daily Journal, “‘Can’t we just be like California?’ Another solution in search of a problem.” The Seyfarth partners said while historically the issue of noncompete enforcement has been left to the states, the last year has seen the U.S. Department of Justice and the
On April 13, 2020, the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division and the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Competition released a joint statement and press release regarding “competition in labor markets” and potential agency actions in the face of the COVID-19 crisis. While the agencies’ joint statement appears to be focused on collusion between employers entering into horizontal “no-hire” or “no-poach” agreements, employers in certain industries affected by the crisis should also exercise reasonable care in enforcing vertical restrictive covenants, including non-competition and non-solicitation agreements.…
Continue Reading The DOJ and FTC Issue Joint Statement on Competition in Labor Markets in Light of COVID-19: What Effect, If Any, Does This Have on Non-Competes?
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…
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
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
As we previously covered, a group of 18 state attorneys general in July filed comments with the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”), asking the FTC to incorporate labor concerns when reviewing corporate mergers and to use its enforcement powers under the Sherman Act to stop the use of non-compete, non-solicit, and no-poach agreements in many situations. Many of those same attorneys general recently sent another letter to the FTC, this time urging it to use its rulemaking authority “to bring an end to the abusive use of non-compete clauses in employment contracts.”
In the most recent letter, the attorneys general endorsed the arguments presented in a March 20, 2019, petition submitted to the FTC by various labor unions, public interest groups, and legal advocates, requesting that the FTC initiate rulemaking to classify abusive worker non-compete clauses as an unfair method of competition and per se illegal under the FTC Act for low wage workers or where the clause is not explicitly negotiated. As they did in their previous letter, the attorneys general contend that non-competes “deprive workers of the right to pursue their ambitions and can lock them into hostile or unsafe working environments.” The attorneys general also argue that the arguments in support of non-compete clauses are unpersuasive and that employers can use other “less draconian” ways to recoup their investment in job training, methods of business, and other intangibles. The attorneys general further argued that non-competes burden businesses seeking to hire new employees, which in turn inhibits innovation and drives up consumer costs by suppressing competition.…
Continue Reading State Attorneys General Keep Pressure on FTC to Regulate Non-Competes
A group of 18 state attorneys general (the “AGs”) recently filed comments with the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) in advance of a series of hearings centered on changes to antitrust and consumer protection enforcement in the 21st century. The letter identifies four major areas where recent antitrust activity involving labor issues have occurred: (1) horizontal no-poach agreements between employers; (2) vertical no-poach agreements, particularly franchise agreements; (3) non-compete agreements between employers and employees; and (4) mergers impacting labor markets. Although it may reveal the enforcement priorities of its signatories, the letter’s arguments are mostly unsupported by any case law and in some respects are contrary to the Department of Justice’s positions on the matters.…
Continue Reading State Attorneys General Urge FTC to Consider Labor Issues in Antitrust Enforcement
Academics and advocacy groups—including nonprofit organizations and several major labor unions—have filed a petition with the Federal Trade Commission asking the agency to initiate the rulemaking process and ban non-compete agreements. The petitioners advocate regulations “to prohibit employers from presenting a non-compete clause to a worker (regardless of whether the worker is classified as an ‘employee’ or an ‘independent contractor’), conditioning employment or the purchase of a worker’s labor on the worker’s acceptance of a non-compete clause, or enforcing, or threatening to enforce, a non-compete clause against a worker.”…
Continue Reading Labor Unions, Advocacy Groups, and Academics Ask Federal Trade Commission to Issue Rules Banning Non-Competes
This post originally appeared on the Workplace Class Action blog.
Seyfarth Synopsis: True to his word, the Assistant Attorney General for the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice has announced the first of a number of anticipated no-poach enforcement actions. While this was a civil proceeding, the Department of Justice has said that in some cases it may treat the conduct as criminal. Many executives and HR professionals are unaware that the antitrust laws apply to the employment marketplace. Thus, if they have not done so already, employers should consider the implementation of compliance programs to make sure that appropriate employees are aware of these developments and risks.…
Continue Reading DOJ Announces First of a Number of Anticipated No-Poach Enforcement Actions – What Should Employers Do Now?
Cross Posted from Employment Law Lookout.
Seyfarth Synopsis: On October 20, the DOJ and the FTC jointly issued their Antitrust Guidance for HR Professionals, stating that DOJ intends to pursue employers criminally for alleged wage fixing and no-poaching agreements.
On October 20, 2016, the DOJ and FTC jointly issued their “Antitrust Guidance for…