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The New FTC Rule on Non-Compete Agreements: A Comprehensive Overview


Non-compete agreements have long been a contentious issue in employment law. These agreements, which restrict employees from working for competitors or starting a competing business within a certain period and geographic area after leaving a job, have been criticized for limiting worker mobility and suppressing wages. In response to these concerns, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has introduced a new rule aimed at curbing the use of non-compete agreements. This article provides a comprehensive overview of the new FTC rule, exploring its background, key provisions, potential impacts, and the reactions from various stakeholders.


History of Non-Compete Agreements

Non-compete agreements have been used for centuries, originally intended to protect trade secrets and maintain competitive advantage. Over time, their use expanded beyond high-level executives and key employees to a broader range of workers, including low-wage employees. This trend raised significant concerns about fairness and economic mobility, prompting calls for regulatory intervention.

Regulatory Landscape

Before the new FTC rule, the regulation of non-compete agreements primarily fell under state law. States like California, North Dakota, and Oklahoma have long prohibited non-compete agreements, while others have imposed varying degrees of restrictions. The lack of a uniform federal standard led to a patchwork of regulations, creating uncertainty for employers and employees alike.

The New FTC Rule

Key Provisions

The new FTC rule represents a significant shift in the regulation of non-compete agreements. Here are the key provisions:

1. Prohibition of Non-Compete Clauses: The rule generally prohibits employers from entering into non-compete agreements with workers. This applies to employees, independent contractors, interns, volunteers, and other types of workers.

2. Rescission Requirement: Employers are required to rescind existing non-compete agreements and notify affected employees that their non-compete clauses are no longer in effect.

3. Limited Exceptions: The rule allows for limited exceptions where non-compete clauses may still be permissible, such as in the sale of a business, provided certain conditions are met.

Implementation Timeline

The rule includes a phased implementation timeline to allow employers time to comply. The key dates are as follows:

  • Initial Notice: Employers must notify employees of the rescission of non-compete agreements within 45 days of the rule’s effective date.
  • Full Compliance: Employers must be in full compliance with the rule within 180 days of the effective date.

Implications for Employers

Compliance Challenges

Employers will face several challenges in complying with the new rule, including:

  • Reviewing Existing Agreements: Employers must review all existing employment agreements to identify non-compete clauses that need to be rescinded.
  • Updating Employment Policies: Companies will need to update their employment policies and contracts to remove any non-compete language.
  • Training and Communication: Employers must train HR personnel and communicate the changes to employees clearly and effectively.

Strategic Adjustments

To adapt to the new regulatory environment, employers may consider:

  • Strengthening Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs): With non-compete clauses prohibited, employers might focus more on NDAs to protect confidential information.
  • Enhancing Retention Strategies: Companies may need to develop new strategies to retain key employees, such as offering better compensation packages, career development opportunities, and improved workplace culture.

Implications for Employees

Increased Mobility and Bargaining Power

The new FTC rule is expected to significantly enhance employee mobility and bargaining power. Key benefits for employees include:

  • Freedom to Change Jobs: Workers will have greater freedom to change jobs without the fear of legal repercussions from non-compete clauses.
  • Improved Wages: Increased competition for talent may lead to higher wages and better benefits as employers strive to attract and retain skilled workers.
  • Enhanced Innovation: With fewer restrictions on movement, employees can more easily share their skills and knowledge, potentially leading to increased innovation and productivity across industries.

Potential Drawbacks

While the new rule is largely seen as a positive development for employees, there are potential drawbacks to consider:

  • Increased Competition: With more employees able to move freely between companies, competition for jobs may increase, potentially making it harder for some workers to secure employment.
  • Trade Secret Concerns: Employers may become more protective of trade secrets, potentially leading to stricter NDAs and other measures that could impact employees.

Broader Economic Impact

Impact on Innovation and Entrepreneurship

By removing barriers to employee mobility, the new FTC rule is expected to foster innovation and entrepreneurship. Employees with valuable skills and knowledge will find it easier to start their own businesses or join startups, potentially leading to a more dynamic and competitive economy.

Regional Variations

The impact of the new rule may vary across different regions and industries. For instance, states that previously allowed broad use of non-compete agreements may see more significant changes in their labor markets compared to states that already had strict regulations in place.

Legal and Economic Research

Ongoing research and analysis will be crucial in assessing the long-term impact of the new rule. Economists and legal scholars will likely study the effects on wages, job mobility, and overall economic growth to determine the rule’s effectiveness and identify areas for potential adjustment.

Reactions from Stakeholders

Business Community

Reactions from the business community have been mixed. Some businesses, particularly those in technology and other high-innovation sectors, have expressed concerns about protecting proprietary information and maintaining competitive advantage. Others, however, welcome the rule as a way to promote a more dynamic and competitive labor market.

Labor Organizations

Labor organizations and worker advocacy groups have largely praised the new rule, viewing it as a significant step toward improving worker rights and economic mobility. These groups argue that the rule will help reduce exploitation and ensure fairer treatment of workers.

Legal Experts

Legal experts have noted the potential for litigation as businesses and employees navigate the new regulatory landscape. Questions about the scope and interpretation of the rule may lead to legal challenges, which could influence how the rule is implemented and enforced in practice.


The new FTC rule on non-compete agreements represents a major shift in employment law, with significant implications for employers, employees, and the broader economy. By prohibiting most non-compete clauses, the rule aims to enhance worker mobility, improve wages, and foster innovation. While challenges and uncertainties remain, the rule has the potential to create a more dynamic and competitive labor market, benefiting workers and employers alike.

As the rule takes effect, it will be important for all stakeholders to stay informed and adapt to the changing regulatory environment. Employers must take proactive steps to ensure compliance, while employees should understand their new rights and opportunities. Continued research and dialogue will be essential in assessing the rule’s impact and making any necessary adjustments to achieve its intended goals.

Please feel free to contact Michigan non-compete lawyer Michael J. Hamblin for more information on how he can help you with your non-compete agreement issues.

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