Experts dispute whether companies are using noncompete agreements more than ever, but they agree on one thing: Many talented job applicants refuse to sign them and choose employers that don’t require them.
“Today’s workforce is less loyal than in the past, and movement between employers is a fact of life in modern business,” said Andrew Sherrod, an attorney with Hirschler Fleischer in Richmond, Va. “Many talented employees do not want to be tied down and, if given the choice to work for a company that imposes noncompete restrictions versus one that does not, might choose the latter.”
A White House paper on noncompetes published in May noted that many workers were asked to sign noncompetes only after accepting a job offer, but comments about noncompetes on Glassdoor can alert applicants to this practice.
White House Paper
Noncompetes may be unpopular among employees, but they’re becoming more common, according to Michael Elkon, an attorney with Fisher Phillips in Atlanta.
As a practical matter, most courts won’t enforce them against lower-level employees, he noted, but their more widespread use is attracting political attention.
The White House paper criticized the growing use of noncompetes, saying that they impact nearly one-fifth of U.S. workers. It cited a 2013 study commissioned by The Wall Street Journal that found a 61 percent rise from 2002 to 2013 in the number of employees getting sued by former companies for breach of noncompete agreements.
Approximately 14 percent of workers earning less than $40,000 are subject to noncompete clauses, including fast-food employees, warehouse workers and camp counselors, the White House said.
Noncompetes are even prevalent in California, where courts do not enforce them; 19 percent of workers in California report signing a noncompete. Many workers are not aware of the lack of enforcement in California when they sign the agreements, the report noted.
Several states ban noncompete agreements for certain sectors, occupations and time periods. Hawaii banned noncompetes for technology jobs, and New Mexico banned them for health care jobs. Oregon banned noncompete agreements that last longer than 18 months, while Utah has limited them to a year.
Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, Tennessee and Texas do not enforce noncompetes against physicians, the White House report noted.
However, some state courts strike offensive clauses from noncompetes if doing so renders the remaining language enforceable under the state’s law. Meanwhile, other courts, most recently the Nevada Supreme Court, reject this so-called blue penciling of noncompetes.
Paul Munger, an attorney with Taylor English Duma in Atlanta, said, “”We’re definitely seeing more noncompetes. Many states have changed their laws to make it easier to enforce noncompete agreements, and at the same time, companies are very concerned that the theft of their electronic informationÑcustomer lists and other dataÑmakes it easier for a former employee to compete against them.””
Employers should think about their most important relationships and plans, and tailor their noncompete agreements to protect both, Elkon said. He noted that if rivals use noncompete agreements and an employer doesn’t, the latter is at a competitive disadvantage.