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New state and federal limits on post-employment restrictive covenants mean employers must stay on top of more than just vaccination policies or the logistics of office reopenings. The swath of new and on-the-horizon legislation aimed at limiting the enforceability of post-employment non-compete agreements deserves employers’ attention too. Part One of our blog post series on restrictive covenants addressed the intersection of remote work and state non-compete laws. Now, in Part Two, we summarize recent updates to state non-compete laws, pending state legislation that could impact non-competes, and new federal-level activity aimed at limiting non-competes.

State Updates

  • Colorado

Colorado recently raised the stakes for violations of its non-compete law. Effective March 1, 2022, under SB 21-271, a person who violates Colorado’s non-compete statute commits a class 2 misdemeanor.

Colorado’s non-compete statute (C.R.S. section 8-2-113) voids agreements that restrict trade, such as non-competition and non-solicitation of customers covenants, unless they fall within a specific statutory exception: (i) a contract for the purchase or sale of a business or its assets; (ii) a contract for protecting trade secrets; (iii) a contract provision recovering education or training expenses associated with an employee who has been with an employer for less than two years; or (iv) a restriction on executive or management personnel or each of their professional staff. As of March 1, 2022, a person who violates this statute commits a class 2 misdemeanor punishable by up to 120 days in jail and / or a fine of up to $750.

Many questions remain about the enforcement of this amendment, such as who will face ultimate liability for the employer (e.g., in-house counsel, HR staff, line managers, etc.). And though there is no indication that the new law is retroactive, Colorado employers were subject to criminal penalties for a violation of Colorado’s non-compete law even prior to SB 21-271 being passed, under C.R.S. section 8-2-115. SB 21-271 repealed C.R.S. section 8-2-115 while simultaneously inserting language into the non-compete statute itself making a violation a class 2 misdemeanor. It remains to be seen whether this is simple statutory consolidation, or a signal that Colorado plans to increase enforcement of violations of its non-compete statute. Employers should review their non-compete agreements and internal policies regarding which employees are required to sign such agreements to make sure they are in compliance with this new law.

Continue Reading The Only Constant is Change: Recent (and Potential) Changes in State and Federal Non-Compete Legislation

Actions under California’s Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) have long plagued employers, both large and small, but that all may change this year.

What is PAGA?

PAGA, enacted in 2004, permits a single employee to stand in the shoes of the state’s Attorney General and file suit on behalf of other “aggrieved” employees to recover penalties for California Labor Code violations. The potential recovery against employers can be substantial, with default penalties calculated as $100 “for each aggrieved employee per pay period for the initial violation,” and $200 per aggrieved employer per pay period for “each subsequent violation.” As such, potential PAGA awards commonly reach millions of dollars against small employers, and tens of millions against large employers, just for simple administrative oversights.

In addition to the potential for steep penalties, several California court decisions have expanded the reach of PAGA over the years. In 2009, the California Supreme Court held that employees bringing actions under PAGA need not comply with the strict procedural rules governing class actions. See Arias v. Superior Court, 46 Cal. 4th 969 (2009). Then, in 2014, the California Supreme Court held that employees could not waive their right to bring PAGA claims in court, paving the way for an increase in PAGA litigation. See Iskanian v. CLS Transportation Los Angeles, LLC, 59 Cal. 4th 348 (2014).

Recently, California courts have provided some limits to the expansion of PAGA. In 2021, the California Court of Appeals provided a potential “manageability” defense for employers.  Specifically, in Wesson v. Staples The Office Superstore, LLC, the Court of Appeals held that trial courts have the discretion to strike claims for penalties under PAGA if the claims will be unmanageable due to individualized issues at trial. See 68 Cal. App. 5th 746 (2021).

Is there an end in sight?

However, the fate of PAGA may rest in the hands of California voters this year. In December 2021, California’s Secretary of State approved the distribution of a petition to put an initiative on the 2022 ballot called “the California Fair Pay and Accountability Act.” The California Fair Pay and Accountability Act aims to essentially repeal PAGA, and replace it with an alternative framework for the enforcement of labor laws.

Continue Reading California Employers: An End To California’s Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA)?