Today, President Biden announced he would issue an Executive Order that calls on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to adopt rules to curtail worker non-compete agreements. Interestingly, a week ago, the FTC approved changes to its Rules of Practice to modernize and expedite the way it issues Trade Regulation Rules.

If you have followed our alerts, we predicted the elimination of non-competes would probably happen. In 2016, then-Vice President Biden was a vocal opponent against non-compete agreements. He led the Obama administration's initiative seeking to limit or eliminate non-compete agreements. In his presidential campaign, Biden promised to "work with Congress to eliminate all non-compete agreements, except the very few that are absolutely necessary to protect a narrowly defined category of trade secrets...."

Since this is not an act of Congress, the question will be the extent and timing of any FTC rules.

The FTC enforces and administers a wide variety of federal consumer protection laws and regulations that prevent fraud, deception, and unfair business practices. It also develops policy initiatives on issues that affect competition, consumers, and the U.S. economy.

Once the Executive Order is issued, it will be interesting to determine the authority under which the FTC will issue its rules. We anticipate that the FTC will assert authority under its broad power to protect consumers from unfair or deceptive acts or practice ("UDAP") and unfair methods of competition ("UMC"). On January 9, 2020, the FTC held a workshop to examine whether there is a sufficient legal basis and empirical economic support to promulgate an FTC rule that would restrict the use of non-compete clauses in employer-employee employment contracts. After the workshop, the FTC extended the public comment period through March 10, 2020, but the Commission has not issued any subsequent guidance on the subject.

Stay tuned for additional information. With the announcement of the Executive Order, the outcome of the FTC non-compete analysis should soon be released.

Originally published July 8, 2021

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