Political winds disfavoring non-compete agreements for low wage and rank-and-file workers continue to blow, and appear to be picking up speed.
On October 25, 2016, the White House took the unusual step of issuing a “Call to Action” to states regarding non-compete agreements, as part of the President’s initiative to stoke competition across the economy. Calling non-competes an “institutional factor that has the potential to hold back wages and entrepreneurship,” the Call to Action seeks to reduce the misuse of non-compete agreements nationwide.
President Obama called on state policymakers to join in pursuing best-practice policy objectives, including:
- Banning non-compete clauses for categories of workers (such as low wage workers or workers laid off or terminated without cause);
- Improving transparency and fairness of non-compete agreements; and
- Incentivizing employers to write enforceable contracts (i.e., discouraging overreaching provisions) by, for example, promoting the “red pencil doctrine” which renders contracts with unenforceable provisions void in their entirety.
Immediately answering the White House’s Call to Action, New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced on October 25, 2016 that he would introduce legislation in New York’s state legislature in 2017 “to curb the rampant misuse of non-compete agreements, which depress wages and limit economic mobility.”
Among other things, the proposed New York bill would prohibit the use of non-competes for any employee below the salary threshold set by Labor Law Section 190(7) (currently $900 per week); would require non-competes to be provided to individuals before a job offer is extended; and would require employers to pay employees additional consideration if they sign non-competes.
Employers thus should review their non-competes to ensure that they are narrowly drafted and should re-evaluate the categories of employees asked to sign them, so as to confirm that only those who truly pose a competitive threat are asked to sign a non-compete.
Also, the Call to Action falls in line with Guidelines recently issued by the Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission, which outline an aggressive policy to investigate and punish employers and individual human resources employees who enter into unlawful agreements concerning employee recruitment or retention.