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Volume XIII, Number 32

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Non-competes Under Attack by FTC

To ring in the 2023 new year, the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) has taken multiple actions targeting the use of non-compete agreements, all of which are consistent with President Biden’s July 2021 Executive Order on competition in the labor market. The FTC has proposed both a rule banning the use of non-compete agreements with employees and independent contractors, and it also took legal action under its existing authority against three companies for their use of non-competes.

The FTC’s proposed rule would ban employers from entering into, maintaining, or enforcing non-compete clauses with their workers, including employees, independent contractors and unpaid workers. The FTC’s notice does not mince words about its effect, as the agency states its intention to “categorically ban employers from using non-compete clauses.”

The rule defines a non-compete clause as “a contractual term between an employer and a worker that prevents the worker from seeking or accepting employment with a person, or operating a business, after the conclusion of the worker’s employment with the employer.” Though the rule does not target non-solicitation or non-disclosure clauses, it proposes a functional test to determine whether a clause meets the definition, meaning that a non-disclosure or non-solicitation covenant that effectively bars an employee from seeking employment in their chosen industry could be considered a non-compete. Non-compete clauses that require the employee to pay liquidated damages to the employer in the event of competition are also prohibited.

The rule would apply retroactively and require employers to rescind any existing non-compete contracts within 180 days after publication of the final rule. Employers would also be required to provide individualized notice to the employees within 45 days of rescinding the non-compete clause. Importantly, the rule would not apply in the context of a sale of a business or ownership interest of at least 25%.

The FTC also brought an enforcement action against three different companies to invalidate their respective worker non-compete agreements pursuant to its broad authority under Section 5 of the FTC Act. In the respective legal actions, the FTC ordered the companies to cease enforcing their agreements and to notify all employees they were no longer bound by the agreements. This comes on the heels of the FTC’s major policy announcement that the agency would vigorously enforce Section 5’s prohibition on unfair methods of competition and that this enforcement effort would cover areas that may otherwise not be within the purview of other antitrust laws, such as the Sherman and Clayton Acts.

If ultimately published as a final rule, employers can anticipate the non-compete ban will face immediate legal challenge on numerous grounds, as noted in FTC Commissioner Wilson’s lone dissent to the proposed rule. Given the importance of non-compete agreements to many employers’ efforts to protect their competitive information and relationships, employers should carefully monitor these developments. Now is the time to re-evaluate strategies for protecting competitive information by focusing on other avenues available by contract or under law that do not rely on non-competes. This includes careful examination and identification of protectable information (trade secrets), the measures in place to keep such information secret, and employees’ access to such information.

© Polsinelli PC, Polsinelli LLP in CaliforniaNational Law Review, Volume XIII, Number 6
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About this Author

Emma R. Schuering, Polsinelli PC, FMLA Matters Attorney, labor and employment lawyer, kansas city
Associate

For each engagement in which Emma Schuering is involved, she seeks to provide concise and articulate legal counsel that aligns with clients’ business objectives. Emma represents employers in a variety of employment litigation matters, including the enforcement of non-compete agreements and FMLA claims. She also focuses her practice on appeals and dispositive motions.

Prior to joining Polsinelli, Emma worked as a law clerk at the Missouri Court of Appeals, Southern District, in Springfield, Missouri. During her tenure, Emma was exposed to number...

816.360.4281
Jack Blum Polsinelli Employment Attorney
Associate

Jack Blum is an associate in the firm’s Employment Disputes, Litigation, and Arbitration practice, where he represents employers in connection with a wide range of employment law issues. Jack has extensive experience in defending employers against claims by their employees in federal and state courts, as well as before government agencies like the EEOC, Department of Labor, and state human rights commissions. Jack aggressively defends his client’s personnel practices and decisions while not losing sight of their underlying business goals and objectives. Jack represents clients in all...

202.772.8483
Associate

Isaac Caverly focuses his practice on a wide variety of employment-related matters. Isaac is committed to understanding the industry in which clients operate and he provides valuable counsel to employers as they face sensitive workplace matters. His experience includes conducting discovery research and drafting memoranda related to employment cases and summary judgements as well as conducting employment due diligence for corporate transactions. Prior to joining Polsinelli, Isaac was a summer associate and served as a congressional intern and served as Co-President of the Iowa Student Bar...

816-218-1210
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