Monday, April 22, 2013

New Jersey Non-Compete Bill Follows Maryland Lead - And Then Takes It a Step Further

In January, I discussed Maryland's proposed Senate Bill 51, which (if passed) would ban certain non-compete agreements if an employee was deemed eligible to receive unemployment benefits.

I offered my take on why this bill was fatally flawed. This is nothing more than another example of intrusive legislative meddling with absolutely no concern for the unintended consequences likely to result in day-to-day practice.

At least three Assemblymen from New Jersey have taken an even further step, proposing A3970, a bill that would ban a broader range of business protection covenants when an individual is deemed eligible for benefits under the state's unemployment compensation law. Incredibly, the proposed bill is not limited to general market-based non-competes, but also extends to any kind of non-solicitation covenant and even non-disclosure agreements.

New Jersey's unemployment compensation law is very similar to those in other states, in that an employee is generally not eligible to receive UC benefits if she voluntarily quits her job or is terminated for misconduct. Some states - like Maryland - have broader definitions concerning eligibility. "Misconduct" is very fact-specific and could, in many cases, cover the type of pre-termination conduct (e.g., theft of data, solicitation of accounts) that gives rise to competition suits.

For more on A3970, read the fine post from Seyfarth Shaw here and an interesting online article from here. The latter post discusses the exact point that I made in January when discussing the proposed Maryland legislation: the bill encourages companies to fight unemployment claims when they otherwise wouldn't. This is the law of unintended consequences at work.

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