Federal Trade Commission Alters Employment Landscape Through Nationwide Noncompete Ban

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As Bradley previously reported, the FTC at the beginning of last year issued a notice of proposed rulemaking to effectively ban employee noncompete provisions as an unfair method of competition in violation of Section 5 of the FTC Act. Following a 16-month administrative process that drew more than 26,000 public comments, the FTC on April 23, 2024, issued its final rule that will, according to the FTC, “promote competition by banning noncompetes nationwide, protecting the fundamental freedom of workers to change jobs, increasing innovation, and fostering new business formation.”

Key features of the final rule include:

  • Defining “noncompete clauses” as a term or condition of employment that either “prohibits” a worker from, “penalizes” a worker for, or “functions to prevent” a worker from (A) seeking or accepting work in the United States with a different person where such work would begin after the conclusion of the employment that includes the term or condition; or (B) operating a business in the United States after the conclusion of the employment that includes the term or condition.
  • Treating existing noncompetes differently depending on the category of worker.
  • For “senior executives,” existing noncompetes may remain in force. The term “senior executive” refers to workers earning more than $151,164 who are in a “policy-making position.” As so defined, the FTC estimates that senior executives represent less than 0.75% of all workers.
  • For all other categories of workers, existing noncompetes will be unenforceable following the effective date (i.e., 120 days following its publication on the Federal Register).
  • Banning new noncompetes for all workers following the effective date.
  • Requiring employers to provide “clear and conspicuous notice” to workers who are not senior executives and are subject to existing noncompetes that such provisions are no longer enforceable. The FTC included model language in the final rule that satisfies the notice requirements.
  • The final rule does not apply to nonprofit entities, such as nonprofit hospitals, as they fall outside of the jurisdiction of the FTC Act. The FTC notes, however, that not all entities that claim tax-exempt status in their tax filings are automatically outside of the scope of the final rule. Rather, the FTC applies a two-part test to determine whether the purported nonprofit is within the scope of the FTC Act, focusing on the source of the entity’s income and the destination of the income.
  • Because the FTC does not have regulatory authority over banks, it does not apply to banks. The rule does apply to bank affiliates however as those entities are within FTC jurisdiction.
  • The final rule generally does not apply to business owners upon the “bona fide” sale of a business. The rule expanded the sale of business exception found in the proposed rule.
  • The final rule does not apply where a cause of action related to a noncompete accrued prior to the effective date of the final rule.

The FTC contends that the final rule will benefit the U.S. economy by, among other things, increasing worker earnings, reducing healthcare costs, spurring new business formation, and enhancing innovation. The final rule was issued following a 3-2 vote by the commissioners, with the two newly appointed Republican commissioners – Melissa Holyoak and Andrew Ferguson – voting against the rule. In their prepared remarks, the dissenting commissioners questioned the FTC’s legal authority to take such sweeping action.

The final rule has already prompted a legal challenge. Shortly after the FTC’s public meeting approving the final rule, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce released a statement indicating its intent to “sue the FTC to block this unnecessary and unlawful rule and put other agencies on notice that such overreach will not go unchecked.” True to its word, the Chamber the following day filed a Complaint for Declaratory Judgment and Injunctive Relief in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas. Chamber of Commerce of the United States of America v. Federal Trade Commission, Case No. 6:24-cv-00148 (E.D.Tex. filed April 24, 2024).