This year, we have seen a slight uptick in proposed legislation concerning non-compete agreements. In previous posts, I've written about legislative efforts in Wisconsin, Washington, and elsewhere. However, while most bills stall out, a few gain momentum. And recently, we have two actual legislative enactments that will change existing law.
The first new law comes from Arkansas, where Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed Act 921. This new law allows a court to enforce reasonable aspects of a non-compete agreement. Previously, Arkansas courts would not allow a court to blue-pencil an agreement that would allow for partial enforcement. That is, an agreement with any overbroad sub-parts rendered the whole document unenforceable. A court's ability to sever offending provisions is weapon in an employer's enforcement arsenal and encourages overbroad drafting.
Act 921 also provides for a presumption that a covenant lasting two years or less is reasonable. Finally, Act 921 specifies an array of employer protectable interests, which include goodwill, confidential information, and training. (The list also identifies protectable interests as "methods" which I found odd.)
Act 921 takes effect on August, 6, 2015.
In April, New Mexico enacted Senate Bill 325, which limits the enforcement of non-competes for health care practitioners (which is defined to include physicians, dentists, podiatrists, and nurse anesthetists). The law is available here.
The law, however, contains a number of significant limitations. First, it does not apply to heath care practitioners who are shareholders or partners in a practice. Second, it does not prohibit a practice from binding a health care practitioner to a non-solicitation provision with regard to patients and employees of the practice (as long as the covenant is 1 year or less). And third, it does not preclude use of a liquidated damages provision. Therefore, we can expect to see physician employment contracts track the language of the statute and (in all likelihood) tie a breach of a non-solicitation covenant to some formula for liquidated damages.
Nationally, we have a new bill tied to enforcement of non-compete agreements and, of course, it arises out of the infamous Jimmy John's case. Illustrating once again that there is no limit to legislators' imagination when it comes to giving legislation creative and idiotic names, several Senate Democrats have backed the Mobility and Opportunity for Vulnerable Employees (MOVE) Act. A copy of the bill is available here.
The essence of the bill is that it would bar use of non-competes for low-wage workers, generally defined as those earning less than $15 per hour. A violation would result in a fine of up to $5,000 per employee subject to the non-compete, and the law would empower the Secretary of Labor to investigate complaints concerning the improper deployment of non-competes. The law also contains a posting requirement (the violation of which is punishable by a flat $5,000 fine) that would tell a low-wage employee of the ban on non-competes.
The bill also would require employers who propose to use a non-compete to disclose this to the employee before employment and "at the beginning of the process for hiring" the employee. While some states have examined this kind of notice requirement in recent years, this would mark a substantial change in the law. Best practices certainly call for up-front disclosure, but it is still very common for employees who leave a job and accept a new one to see a non-compete on the first day of work.
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