Mergers & Acquisitions

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