Noncompete is bullshit, and soon also illegal

Posted on Friday, Jan 13, 2023 by Ned Bellavance

Featured in this episode of Chaos Lever

When you are looking to get a job, the potential employer holds a lot of power. Especially if you really need that job to like “have healthcare” or “afford rent”. You know, silly things like that.

As such, companies have long abused that power to enforce restrictions on your employment that don’t seem entirely moral and in some cases are blatantly illegal. One example of the latter is wage information sharing. You have the right to disclose your compensation to anyone you want, and your employer cannot take punitive action if you do.

An equally important example of the former (immoral but not illegal) is the noncompete agreement. In fact, you may already have one of these in your contract, about one in five people do. The noncompete says that you cannot quit and go work for a competitor within a certain time frame.

While not always invoked, the noncompete clause can serve as a way to suppress worker wages (by preventing mobility and wage competition) and reduce opportunity. Just knowing that you might be sued if you went to go work for a competitor is usually enough to make folks think twice.

The Federal Trade Commission has proposed a rule that would prohibit noncompete clauses on workers for both new and existing contracts, also forcing companies to inform their employees that the existing noncompete is now null and void.

Several states, including California, have already banned non-competes, with no obvious catastrophic Impacts, so I’d say this would be a net good. Of course, companies and lobbies will be more than happy to challenge the FTC in court saying they are overreaching their authority, and with our current SCOTUS I don’t hold out a ton of hope that they would side with the little guy.

Still, it’s a small beacon of light in an otherwise dark horizon and I choose to celebrate it.