Photo of Robin Samuel

This fall, California voters will have the opportunity to decide the fate of the state’s Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA). After receiving more than the 700,000 signatures in support, the “California Employee Civil Action Law and PAGA Repeal Initiative” has qualified for the November 5, 2024 state ballot. If the initiative passes, PAGA will be repealed and replaced with the “Fair Pay and Employer Accountability Act,” which will double the statutory and civil penalties for willful state labor law violations, require 100% of monetary penalties be awarded to employees, and provide resources to employers to ensure compliance with wage and hour laws. The new law will preclude plaintiffs’ attorneys from recovering any fees in actions brought under the statute and impose other requirements to effectively “de-deputize” citizen attorneys general.

What Would the New Law Do?

In response to wide ranging criticism of PAGA, the ballot initiative seeks to repeal and replace PAGA with the Fair Pay and Employer Accountability Act. If passed, the initiative would:

  • Double statutory and civil penalties for willful violations;
  • Award 100% of monetary penalties to employees (instead of the current 25%);
  • Provide resources to employers to ensure labor compliance and allow employers opportunities to cure violations without penalties;
  • Require that the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) be a party to all labor complaints;
  • Prohibit award of attorneys’ fees (which are currently permitted under PAGA); and
  • Require that the state legislature fully fund the DLSE to meet the division’s requirements by law.

Continue Reading Is the End in Sight for PAGA Actions? Californians May Vote “YES” on November 5, 2024.

The FTC rule banning post-employment noncompetes was published in the Federal Register on May 7, which means the rule will take effect on September 4, 2024, unless pending lawsuits to void the rule are successful.

Despite considerable uncertainty around when, or even whether, the rule will apply, employers should prepare now so as not to be caught flatfooted. The first step is to understand the rule’s parameters and potential impact on your business. Our FAQs guide you through the intricacies of the rule and the steps you should take while waiting for the lawsuits challenging the rule to be resolved.

Application of the Rule to Workers

1. Does the rule apply to B2B noncompetes?

No, the FTC rule does not apply to business-to-business (B2B) noncompetes. Instead, existing federal antitrust laws should continue to be considered when evaluating B2B noncompetes.

2. Does the rule apply to all workers?

No, there are limited exceptions. First, the rule does not invalidate existing noncompete agreements (i.e. agreements entered into on or before the effective date of September 4, 2024) with “senior executives.” After that date, new noncompetes with all US employees will be prohibited.

Senior executive” means a worker who received “total annual compensation” of at least $151,164 in the preceding year (or the equivalent amount when annualized if the worker was employed during only part of the year) and who is in a “policy-making position.”

  • “Total annual compensation” may include salary, commissions, nondiscretionary bonuses, and other nondiscretionary compensation earned during the preceding year, but does not include the cost of, or contributions to, fringe benefit programs.
  • Those in a “policy-making position” may include the President, CEO or equivalent, or others with “policy-making authority,” meaning “final authority to make policy decisions that control significant aspects of a business entity or common enterprise.” In the Supplementary Information to the rule (the FTC’s commentary on the rule), the Commission notes “many executives in what is often called the ‘C-suite’ will likely be senior executives if they are making decisions that have a significant impact on the business, such as important policies that affect most or all of the business. Partners in a business, such as physician partners of an independent physician practice, would also generally qualify as senior executives under the duties prong, assuming the partners have authority to make policy decisions about the business.”

Second, the rule does not apply to workers outside of the United States. See FAQ 11 below.Continue Reading Thirteen Things You Didn’t Know About the FTC’s Noncompete Ban and Five Steps to Prepare Now in Case it Takes Effect

On Tuesday this week, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued its highly anticipated final rule on noncompetes, imposing a near-total ban on worker noncompetes in the United States. Barring injunctive relief from legal challenges (which have already started), the rule will take effect 120 days from publication in the federal register.

Interestingly, the rule exempts noncompete covenants entered into pursuant to a bona fide sale of a business. While “bona fide” is not defined in the final rule, the Supplementary Information for the rule explains that the FTC considered but rejected percentage and dollar minimum thresholds for the sale of business exception to weed out “exploitative and coercive” noncompetes and clarified that excepted noncompetes must be given “pursuant to a bona fide sale.” The Supplementary Information further explains that the FTC considers a bona fide sale to be one that is made between two independent parties at arm’s length, and in which the seller has a reasonable opportunity to negotiate the terms of the sale. In contrast, the FTC specifically calls out as problematic “springing noncompetes,” which apply to employees in the event of a sale and mandatory stock redemption or repurchase programs because the employee has no goodwill to exchange in the sale for the noncompete and no meaningful opportunity to negotiate at the time of contracting.

Nevertheless, the bona fide sale exception is broad and preserves the status quo by allowing buyers in M&A transactions to obtain noncompetes from individual sellers in circumstances where such noncompetes are otherwise permitted currently. While the pending and anticipated legal challenges to the rule are significant and place the entire rule in jeopardy, the sale of business exception is not likely to be narrowed because of these challenges.

So, what does this new regime mean for M&A?

What Type of Noncompetes Are Impacted?

The Supplementary Information confirms that the new rule does not apply to B2B noncompetes or nonsolicits. Instead, the focus of the rule is noncompetes with workers that limit their ability to work for others. So the rule does not impact current B2B agreements.

Second, the FTC repeatedly makes the point that noncompetes must meet existing state and federal law restrictions (e.g., reasonable in scope and duration; limited to the goodwill to be acquired, etc.) to be enforceable, even if they otherwise fall within the sale of business exception in the new rule. This is the case because the FTC rule creates a new floor for noncompetes by preempting more lax state rules, but it does not preempt more stringent state laws or federal antitrust restrictions.Continue Reading Still Going Strong: M&A Noncompetes and the FTC’s Final Rule on Noncompetes

On April 23, the Federal Trade Commission voted 3-2 to issue its final rule on noncompetes, imposing a near-total ban on all employer-employee noncompetes in the US. Barring challenges (the first lawsuits have already been filed), the rule would become effective 120 days from publication.

The rule will be a game-changer for companies operating in the US if it takes effect as issued.

Breaking it Down

What does the rule do?

With only a few exceptions, the FTC’s now-final rule declares employer-employee noncompete clauses an “unfair method of competition,” and a violation of Section 5 of the FTC Act. The rule targets both formal noncompete clauses and “functional noncompete” clauses that have the effect of prohibiting the worker from seeking or accepting employment with a person or operating a business after the conclusion of the worker’s employment with the employer. This can include broad nondisclosure agreements that have the effect of precluding workers from seeking employment opportunities in the same field.Continue Reading Breaking News: The FTC Bans Nearly All Employer-Employee Noncompetes Except Those Given as Part of a ‘Bona Fide’ Sale of Business

Last week, a unanimous US Supreme Court held that an employee need only show “some harm” from a change in the terms and conditions of employment, rather than a “significant” employment disadvantage, to assert a claim for discrimination under Title VII. The decision resolves a circuit split over the showing required for discrimination claims based on changes less drastic than demotions, terminations, or pay reductions, and underscores the continued importance of taking a thoughtful approach to any change in the terms and conditions of an employee’s employment.Continue Reading Less is More: SCOTUS Shifts Title VII Threshold to “Some” Harm (Though Plaintiffs Must Still Show Discriminatory Intent)

California’s regulators have made employment noncompetes (and knowing which employees are bound by them and how!) a key compliance item.

Effective January 1, 2024, AB 1076 amends Section 16600 of the state’s Business and Professions Code to “void the application of any noncompete agreement in an employment context, or any noncompete clause in an employment

Special thanks to Celeste Ang and Stephen Ratcliffe.

We launched the seventh annual edition of The Year Ahead: Global Disputes Forecast, a research-based thought leadership surveying 600 senior legal and risk leaders from large organizations around the world and highlights key issues we anticipate to be crucial for disputes for this year.

Earlier this year, many of you tuned into our 2023 – 2024 Employer Update webinars to plant seeds for success for the year ahead.

Now, to ensure your compliance efforts are blooming, we’re sharing detailed checklists to help you ensure you’re ticking all the boxes!

We may be on the verge of pay equity and transparency requirements for federal contractors and subcontractors. On January 30, 2024 the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council (FAR Council) issued proposed rulemaking that would, if finalized in its current form, require a significant change in recruiting and hiring practices for some contractors.

The FAR Council’s rule would:

  1. Require covered contractors to implement new compensation disclosure requirements in job announcements for certain positions, and
  2. Prohibit covered contractors from requesting or considering applicants’ compensation history when making employment decisions.

The public has until April 1, 2024 to submit comments. We will be tracking this proposed rule as it continues to develop. 

This is just the most recent development in the nationwide wave of state (e.g. California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island and Washington) and local (e.g. Cincinnati, Jersey City, New York City and others) pay transparency regulation our team has chronicled on our blog–see our most recent update on the District of Columbia’s new legislation here. Recently, there has also been litigation in various jurisdictions (e.g. Washington and New York City) seeking to enforce pay transparency regulations that are already on the books. 

Potentially broad application

In its current form, the proposed rule would have broad application, covering both prime contractors and subcontractors performing a government contract or subcontract within the United States (including its outlying areas). The FAR Council states that it contemplated limiting application of the requirements to certain contracts but ultimately did not go that way since “[t]he benefits of the pay equity and transparency requirements in this proposed rule are equally impactful in commercial and noncommercial settings as well as to large or small dollar contracts.”

The proposal defines “work on or in connection with the [government] contract” as “work called for by the contract or work activities necessary to the performance of the contract but not specifically called for by the contract.” The Council “encourages” contractors to apply its provisions “to other positions, including to the recruitment and hiring for any position that the Contractor reasonably believes could eventually perform work on or in connection with the contract.”

Both requirements apply only to “applicants,” defined as a “prospective employee or current employee applying for a position to perform work on or in connection with the [government] contract.”Continue Reading Federal Contractors May Soon Be Required To Disclose Salary Ranges in Job Postings, And Prohibited From Seeking Applicant Salary History

The new year brought some good news for California employers. On January 1, 2024, U.S. District Court Judge Kimberly Mueller issued a decision permanently enjoining California state officials from enforcing AB 51, the contested law that sought to prohibit employers from “forcing” job applicants or employees to enter into pre-dispute employment arbitration agreements covering certain discrimination and retaliation claims. The permanent injunction reaffirmed the ability of employers to mandate arbitration for most employment disputes.

This decision comes less than a year after the Ninth Circuit found that the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) preempts AB 51 in Chamber of Commerce of the United States v. Bonta. As noted in our blog post on the Bonta decision, the Ninth Circuit ultimately upheld a temporary injunction against AB 51, allowing California employers to continue to use employment arbitration agreements while the matter was litigated, and which—given Judge Mueller’s permanent injunction—now can continue indefinitely.

The Lead Up: Recap of the AB 51 Litigation Battle

Here is a quick summary of the AB 51 litigation leading up to the January 1, 2024 permanent injunction:

  • In December 2019, Judge Mueller issued a temporary restraining order, prohibiting California from enforcing AB 51.
  • In September 2021, the Ninth Circuit struck down Judge Mueller’s decision to temporarily restrain California from enforcing AB 51, holding that AB 51 was not largely preempted by the FAA.
  • In August 2022, the Ninth Circuit withdrew its September 2021 decision and voted to take another look at the case through a panel rehearing.
  • In February 2023, the Ninth Circuit, backtracking on their September 2021 decision, held that AB 51 is preempted by the FAA because the deterring penalties that AB 51 imposes on employers is antithetical to the FAA’s policy of favoring arbitration agreements.

Continue Reading End of the AB 51 Saga: California Employers Can and Should Continue Using Arbitration Agreements