What does President Biden’s executive order on non-competes mean for Wisconsin employers

By Erica Reib, Attorney, O’Neil, Cannon, Hollman, DeJong & Laing, S.C.

On Friday, July 9, 2021, President Biden signed an Executive Order that, among other things, instructed the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) to ban or limit non-compete agreements and other clauses or agreements that “unfairly limit worker mobility.” This is not a federal ban on non-compete agreements and does not change any current law. It is important to note, however, that the FTC and the U.S. Department of Justice Antitrust Division, through civil and criminal enforcement actions, have already been looking at no-poach agreements between employers and other competitive restrictions through the lens of antitrust and consumer protection laws and have begun to indict those employers who have entered into anti-competitive agreements that adversely affect America’s labor market. To comply with President Biden’s Executive Order, the FTC will likely go through a notice and comment period and eventually issue regulations governing the enforceability of restrictive covenants. Although a full federal ban on restrictive covenants is unlikely and any FTC rule would be subject to legal challenges, there may be limitations for certain workers (e.g., those in lower wage positions) or those in certain industries (e.g., retail, hospitality). Therefore, employers will need to stay informed on the progress of these regulations.

This is also a good reminder for Wisconsin employers to review their employee restrictive covenants, including non-disclosure, non-solicitation, and non-compete agreements. Regardless of any potential updates to federal law, Wisconsin has its own state statute regulating restrictive covenants – Wis. Stat. § 103.465. Wisconsin’s statute imposes certain requirements for a restrictive covenant to be valid, including reasonable time and geographic limitations. Given the new focus on non-competes by the federal government, it is worthwhile for employers to have their restrictive covenants reviewed to evaluate enforceability and ensure that they’re being appropriately used to protect those legitimate business interests recognized by law.

ABC member, O’Neil, Cannon, Hollman, DeJong & Laing S.C. can answer your labor and employment law questions, concerns, or legal issues you may have, including those regarding restrictive covenants and related issues. Contact author Erica Reib here. Learn more about Erica through this link.

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