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This morning, House Speaker Robert DeLeo announced at a Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce breakfast that the House will be releasing a bill this session that imposes some limitations on non-competes. Although the language of the proposed bill is not yet available, Speaker DeLeo described two key elements:

  • Time Limit: The proposed bill would limit non-competes to 12 months in length.
  • Notice Requirement: The proposed bill would require that employers inform employees in advance that they will be asked to sign a non-compete, and advise them of their right to seek legal counsel.

The states have a rich tradition of passing legislation forbidding or limiting the use of non-compete agreements with identified classes of employees. As you might expect, a number of states forbid or limit the use of non-compete agreements with:

  • Physicians, nurses, psychologists, social workers and other medical professionals
  • Lawyers
  • Individuals working in broadcasting

Consistency-is-keyA recent decision from a Wisconsin state court serves as a cautionary tale for employers that do not routinely impose or enforce non-compete restrictions consistent with the employee’s role and potential to harm the business.

In Kohl’s Department Stores Inc. v. Janet Schalk, 2015CV001465 (Wis. Cir. Ct. Aug. 11, 2015), Judge Robert Mawdsley denied Kohl’s request for an injunction preventing its Chief Information Officer, Janet Schalk, from joining Hudson’s Bay Company partly on the grounds that Schalk’s non-compete was overly restrictive in light of Schalk’s role in comparison with the non-competes of other employees.  Kohl’s, relying upon its non-compete contract with Schalk barring her from working in a similar position with a competitive retailer for one year, argued that Schalk should be barred from joining Hudson’s Bay, a Canadian department store company, because Schalk “has the playbook, the crown jewels, our entire strategy in her hands.” Schalk argued that the non-compete was too broad and that Hudson’s Bay was not a competitor given its high-end retailing–featuring Saks Fifth Avenue and Lord & Taylor–compared to Kohl’s mid-tier status. Schalk also contended that Kohl’s overstated her role and knowledge of the company’s strategy.

Massachusetts State House

The Boston Bar Association recently held its 7th Annual Symposium on Employee Noncompete and Trade Secrets. In addition to practicing attorneys and an MIT-Sloan professor, the panel included three Massachusetts state legislators – Senators Jason Lewis and William Brownsberger, and Representative Lori Ehrlich – who have each authored pending legislation that would, to varying extents, render non-compete agreements unenforceable in the Commonwealth.

Network People

Although last year’s legislative efforts to ban—or limit further—non-competes in Massachusetts failed, proponents have vowed to revive the issue again in 2015-2016. Excluded from those proposed measures, however, has always been any restriction on employers’ use of customer non-solicitation clauses. Should the Legislature ever pass restrictions on non-competes, employers that have not already done so will flock in droves to the use of customer non-solicits, particularly with respect to sales-related employees. This makes the courts’ ongoing struggle to define customer “solicitation” in the digital age of paramount importance.

USA Map

Massachusetts employers and employees have enough to contend with trying to keep abreast of the judicial and legislative fits and starts of non-compete reform within the state, let alone developments in other states. It is important to remember that non-compete law varies widely from state to state, and these variations may come into play if employees are in different states or if a former employee is moving to a new state. Below you will find just a few of the many variances in state non-compete law.

In the rapidly changing business world, protecting a company's human capital and proprietary information is critical to maintaining a competitive edge. On this blog, Nutter's experienced Business Litigation and Labor, Employment & Benefits attorneys offer news and insights on all aspects of restrictive covenants and trade secrets—from analyzing a rapidly evolving body of case law, to summarizing new legislation and legislative efforts, to providing other need-to-know updates and more.

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