Gov. Tim Walz has signed or is expected to sign the Minnesota legislature’s Jobs and Economic Development and Labor Omnibus Budget Bill, bringing broad change to the Minnesota employment law landscape. Notably, the new law bans post-employment noncompete agreements in Minnesota, creates state-wide paid sick and safe time leave, prohibits restrictive franchise agreements, modifies wage disclosure protection law, provides additional protections for pregnant and nursing workers, prevents mandatory employer-sponsored meetings, and creates additional paystub requirements for construction workers, among other things. Gov. Walz signed the paid family and medical leave law, creating a new paid family and medical leave program funded by employer and employee payroll taxes and providing up to 12 weeks of paid leave in a single benefit year for an employee’s own serious health condition and up to 12 weeks of paid leave in a single benefit year for bonding, safety leave or family care, with a cap of no more than 20 weeks of total combined leave in any single benefit year. The Minnesota legislature also ended its 2023 session after passing a recreational cannabis law, amending the state’s drug and alcohol testing laws following the legalization of recreational marijuana, which is anticipated to be signed into law by Gov. Walz this week.
On May 11, 2023, the Minnesota Legislature agreed to a new law rendering void and unenforceable all future covenants not to compete, with limited exceptions for agreements entered into in connection with the sale or dissolution of a business. Following a final vote in the House and Senate, the law will be sent by Gov. Tim Walz for his signature. The law is written to take effect July 1, 2023, and to apply to contracts and agreements entered into on or after that date. With enactment, Minnesota will become the fourth state to impose a complete ban on employment-related noncompetes (joining California, Oklahoma and North Dakota).
The law prohibits any noncompete agreement with an employee or independent contractor that restricts the person from working for another business after termination of employment or independent contractor engagement regardless of a person’s income, with only two very limited carveouts for noncompetes agreed upon (1) during the sale of a business where the agreement prohibits the seller from carrying on a similar business within a reasonable geographical area for a reasonable period of time, or (2) in anticipation of the dissolution of a business where the dissolving partnership or entity agrees that all or any number of the partners, members, or shareholders will not carry on a similar business in a reasonable geographical area for a reasonable period of time. Subject to those limited exceptions, the law provides that any “covenant not to compete” contained in a contract is void and unenforceable. Importantly, a “covenant not to compete” does not include nondisclosure, confidentiality, trade secret, or non-solicitation agreements (including specifically those restricting the ability to use client or contact lists or restricting the solicitation of customers). Also, because “covenant not to compete” is defined in terms of prohibiting conduct “after termination of the employment,” the new law will not prohibit agreements that restrict an employee or independent contractor from working for another business while performing services for a business.
In 2022, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed many laws impacting California employers. Some of the new laws became effective immediately and others, including some that were signed into law just weeks ago, take effect January 1, 2023, or later. These new laws address several topics, including supplemental paid sick leave, pay transparency, leaves of absence and fast-food restaurant employment standards.
As a reminder, the minimum wage in California is increasing to $15.50 per hour on January 1, 2023, for all employers — regardless of the number of workers employed by an employer. Also, many cities and local governments in California have enacted minimum wage ordinances exceeding the state minimum wage.
In April 2022, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz signed Frontline Worker Payments into law to aid Minnesotans who worked in one of 15 frontline sectors identified in the legislation. The public purpose of the law is to “provide payments to frontline workers whose work put them at risk of contracting COVID-19 during the peacetime emergency declared by the governor in Executive Order 20-01.” After the bill was signed into law, the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry (DOLI) was tasked with developing an application process and guidance for employers and employees to facilitate the frontline worker pay program. DOLI opened the application period for the program on June 8, 2022, announcing the period will remain open through July 22, 2022.
On April 4, 2022, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held, in Reuter v. City of Methuen, that employers are strictly liable for treble wages as liquidated damages if they fail to make timely payments upon an employee’s termination of employment in compliance with the Massachusetts Wage Act. With its holding, the Court rejected a longstanding trial court precedent that employers who failed to make timely wage payments were liable only for treble interest.
The Massachusetts Wage Act
Section 148 of the Massachusetts Wage Act requires employers to pay unpaid wages to any employee discharged from employment “in full on the day of [the employee’s] discharge.” Mass. Gen. L. C. 149 § 148. As an enforcement mechanism, the Act provides a private right of action for employees and mandates that employees who prevail on § 148 claims “shall be awarded treble damages, as liquidated damages, for any lost wages and other benefits and shall be awarded the costs of litigation and reasonable attorneys’ fees.” The Act specifically defines “wages” to include, among other things, “any holiday or vacation payments due an employee under an oral or written agreement.”
On March 14, 2022, the 9th Circuit affirmed the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California’s decision in DePuy Synthes Sales, Inc. v. Howmedica Osteonics Corp. and Stryker Corp., that invalidated the New Jersey forum selection clause in the employment contract of Stryker’s former sales associate as a matter of California law and denied Stryker’s motion to transfer the litigation to New Jersey. Though forum selection clauses are generally enforceable under federal law, the 9th Circuit reasoned that deference must be given to state law in determining the validity of a forum selection clause before considering whether the clause is enforceable under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a).
The case involved a former Stryker medical device sales associate, Jonathan Waber, who was employed by Stryker in California and who signed an employment contract with Stryker without legal representation. The agreement included non-competition and non-solicitation provisions, and also included forum-selection and choice-of-law clauses requiring adjudication of contract disputes in New Jersey. After less than one year of employment with Stryker, Waber left Stryker to work for one of its competitors, DePuy. After receiving a cease-and-desist letter from Stryker, DePuy and Waber preemptively filed a declaratory judgment action in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California against Stryker and its subsidiary, Howmedica.