In the best of economic times, some courts can be reluctant to grant immediate injunctive relief and enjoin an employee from working in order to enforce employee post-employment restrictive covenants. Now that we are in the midst of a global pandemic and an economic recession, that challenge has grown. Current economic considerations are causing some courts to weigh the “balance of harms” on injunctive relief applications in favor of employee defendants who are faced with the difficulty of finding other work in an economic downturn with high unemployment. Nevertheless, our review of recent decisions from around the country indicates that courts remain willing to consider injunction motions on an emergent basis to enforce restrictive covenants, particularly where there is a threat of trade secret misappropriation.
The global COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact employers and their employees’ work activities in a variety of ways. Millions of workers have been terminated, laid off or furloughed. Companies have shifted to remote workforces either partially or completely. Courts around the country continue to grapple with suspended or stayed proceedings. This pandemic is presenting some unique challenges and complications to many areas of the law, including restrictive covenant law, as discussed in this COVID-19-themed edition of The Restricting Covenant Series.
The global coronavirus pandemic has had a multitude of effects on how employers conduct business and manage their workforces. But as employees start to return to work, employers must be mindful of how to address those who leave and potentially violate their noncompetition agreements. As we settle into the “new normal,” the Restrictive Covenant team with Faegre Drinker’s Labor & Employment group has identified four considerations for employers seeking to enforce restrictive covenants and protect trade secrets.
A recent Delaware Chancery Court opinion has elucidated Delaware’s approach to judicially modifying, or “blue-penciling,” overly broad noncompete agreements and deferring to parties’ choice of law provisions. The case, FP UC Holdings, LLC, et al. v. James W. Hamilton, Jr., et al., C.A. No. 2019-1029-JRS (Del Ch. Mar. 27, 2020), highlights the importance of drafting well-tailored restrictive covenants, and shows that even in Delaware – where employers often have been reassured by the safe harbor of courts’ relative willingness to blue-pencil problematic agreements and apply Delaware law to fact patterns that have developed in other states – employers must make careful drafting and choice of law decisions. It also emphasizes that if an employer’s intent is to litigate in Delaware, the employer should do so from the beginning, without acquiescing to another court’s jurisdiction.
The most recent installment of the Restricting Covenant Series was inspired by the Jeopardy! tournament “The Greatest of All Time,” where champion Ken Jennings edged out two other competitors to win the million-dollar prize. So, for the crossword and quiz show enthusiasts, here is the clue in the form of an answer (and the subject of this article): This 17-letter word means to cut out the middleman in connection with a transaction. Correct response: What is “disintermediation”? What does disintermediation have to do with noncompete agreements? Read on.
If there was any question about whether there is a growing national trend to limit the enforceability of noncompetition agreements, 2019 settled the matter. Seven states enacted new statutes designed to limit the circumstances in which noncompetition agreements may be used. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced that it is considering a regulation to restrict the use of noncompete clauses in employment agreements, and Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill have held hearings and introduced legislation to create a federal ban on certain noncompete restrictions.
The following is a summary of the top 10 noncompete law developments of 2019. These developments reflect an ever-increasing hostility by lawmakers and courts toward noncompetition agreements. They also demonstrate the need for employers to stay current on the diverse state-specific limitations governing restrictive covenants, new federal activity in the area and ongoing case law developments. In light of this trend, national employers would do well to: be selective in identifying those categories of employees required to sign such agreements; narrowly tailor the scope of such agreements; and rely on choice-of-law and venue provisions, as allowed, to maximize the chances of enforceability.