Does your organization have a non-compete agreement in place? If so, has it been reviewed recently? Non-compete agreements are driven by state laws. Over the past year, there have been a few states that have changed their laws, with changes taking effect next year. The revisions that states are enacting move to restrict using unreasonable non-compete agreements with employees.
Washington, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maine, Maryland, Oregon, and Rhode Island have modified their non-compete agreements this year and are leading the way in non-compete agreement reform. These states have not adopted a uniform approach, but each state provides some direction to other states that may be considering reform. Reasonable non-compete agreements are helpful and often necessary for employers to hire individuals without risking that they will then lose their customers if an employee leaves and tries to take clients with them. However, some agreements go too far and have become unreasonable.
The Washington Statute, effective January 1, 2020, will be unenforceable for employees earning less than $100,000 in total annualized compensation or independent contractors earning less than $250,000 per year. Non-compete agreements are unenforceable for a period greater than 18 months and the terms must be disclosed to prospective employees no later the time the employee accepts an offer of employment. In addition, the statute has several employee protection mechanisms in place, such as requiring an employer to pay an employee’s legal fees and damages should they seek to enforce an unreasonable non-compete agreement.
Potential areas to revise with a non-compete agreement include:
- A threshold for an employer’s salary, anyone making less than the stated amount are excluded from the agreement (i.e., employees making less than $75,000 are excluded from a non-compete agreement)
- Length of employment; an employee could not be held to a non-compete agreement if they were not employed for at least a year by the employer or terminated or laid off without misconduct
- Employees faced with an employer that seeks to enforce an unreasonable agreement should be penalized by having to pay the employee’s legal fees and a small number of damages. It may be a good time to review your non-compete agreement, especially to determine if your agreement is currently relative to any changes in the law that governs it.
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