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Massachusetts non-compete law

Massachusetts has adopted what may be the country’s singlemost employee-side non-compete law. That law, among other things, mandates at least 1/2-year’s garden leave, in other words, at least 1/2 of an employee’s average salary (with the formula to calculate specified in the statute). Timing requirements are imposed regarding the process by which covenants can be entered into with an employee. Additional constraints exist on the duration and geographic scope of permitted non-competes. The law applies to non-competes entered into on or after 10/1/18. It does not apply to a number of other types of covenants, including non-solicits of employees, non-solicits of customers, non-competes entered into for the sale of a business and non-competes entered into outside of employment. Employers with non-competes in Massachusetts are advised to immediately begin analyzing their agreements.

Source: Massachusetts’ 2018 act entitled, “An act relative to the judicial enforcement of noncompetition agreements”

Board steers a sharp 180 in the application of Section 7 to handbooks and policies

During President Obama’s administration, the NLRB substantially expanded its scrutiny of handbooks, workplace rules and workplace policies that, it felt, conflicted with Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act. Section 7 is the part of the Act that permits both unionized and non-unionized workers to act together in concert to further their wages, hours and working conditions.

On June 6, 2018, NLRB General Counsel Peter B. Robb announced the Board will no longer lean towards finding violations of Section 7 in workplace policies. The General Counsel’s memo implements the Board’s own decision in The Boeing Company, 365 NLRB No. 154 (Dec. 14, 2017), where it reversed much of the doctrines associated with the Obama-era Board’s Section 7 analysis and the General Counsel’s previous memo in December 2017.

Now the Board is directed to no longer err on the side of finding a violation when it determines language is merely on its face, without evidence of actual anti-union animus, potentially ambiguous.

Regions should now note that ambiguities in rules are no longer interpreted against the drafter, and generalized provisions should not be interpreted as banning all activity that could conceivably be included.

NLRB General Counsel advised Board personnel that, now, the following types of policies should be considered presumptively lawful:

  • Civility codes (for example, policies that prohibit language or behavior that is offensive, rude, discourteous, negative, annoying, disparaging, condescending, etc.)
  • Rules that prohibit photography/recording in the workplace
  • Rules that prohibit insubordination or non-cooperation
  • Rules that prohibit disruptive or boisterous conduct
  • Rules that protect confidential, proprietary or customer information
  • Rules that prohibit defamation or misrepresentation
  • Rules that protect company logos and I.P.
  • Rules that prohibit speaking on behalf of the company without authorization
  • Rules that prohibit disloyalty, nepotism or self-enrichment

NLRB General Counsel advised Board personnel that, now, the following types of policies will no longer be considered presumptively unlawful, but rather will now require individualized analysis of the particular circumstances of each case:

  • Rules that prohibit conflicts of interest “that do not specifically target fraud and self-enrichment”
  • Broad confidentiality rules that merely protect “employer business” or “employer information”
  • Anti-disparagement rules that prohibit criticizing the company only
  • Rules that broadly prohibit the use of a company’s name
  • Rules that restrict workers’ ability to speak to media or third-parties on their own behalf
  • Rules that prohibit lawful off-duty conduct that is otherwise protected
  • Rules that broadly prohibit making any kind of “false or inaccurate statements”

Finally, NLRB General Counsel identified the following as rules that remain presumptively unlawful:

  • Rules that prohibit employees from discussing their wages, hours and working conditions
  • Rules that prohibit employees from disclosing their own wages, hours and working conditions to the media
  • Rules that prohibit employees from joining “outside organizations”

NLRB General Counsel also cautioned that the Board’s historical (pre-Obama era) approach to the following types of policies remains unchanged:

  • Solicitation/distribution policies
  • Workplace access policies
  • Uniform policies (to include rules re buttons, tshirts, etc.)

Source: NLRB General Counsel Memorandum GC 18-04 (6/6/18).

NLRB General Counsel issues memo outlining likely reversals to Obama-era precedents

As previously reported here in this blog, the Trump Board (NLRB Boards are often colloquially but not pejoratively referred to by the President during their term) has begun overruling Obama-era precedents. Further reversals are anticipated. Curious which Obama-era NLRB precedents are likely to be reversed?

NLRB General Counsel Robb issued a controversial memo, shortlisting the cases he thinks most warrant attention. Indeed to call it a shortlist is a stretch. The General Counsel lists 26 categories, that range from employee access to email, to protections for section 7 rights, obscene and harassing behavior, off-duty access to property, the Weingarten right to have a representative present, rights of employees during contract negotiations, successorship and of course the joint employer doctrine, unilateral changes consistent with past practice, information requests during the processing of a grievance, dues check-offs, remedies, deferral, and, well, the list goes on, as will employers’ need to stay tuned to forthcoming developments at the Board.

Source: NLRB General Counsel Memorandum GC 18-02.

Tenth Circuit reaffirms need for irreparable harm to obtain injunction in trade secrets case

Both federal and state law (respectively, the Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA) and Colorado’s Uniform Trade Secrets Act (CUTSA)) authorize a company to obtain a preliminary injunction against a former employee who is using or threatening to use its trade secrets. The Tenth Circuit recently reaffirmed that, among the requirements for such an injunction, is proof of irreparable harm. (The other requirements are (1) substantial likelihood of success once the merits of the case are decided, (2) the threatened injury outweighs the harm of the injunction, and (3) the injunction will not be adverse to the public interest.)

To be “irreparable” the harm that will be suffered but for the preliminary injunction must be the kind that cannot be reversed, repaired or even compensated for in damages.

In this case, the trial court found that the harm the former employer would suffer if no injunction was issued could be compensated for in damages. In other words, quoting the trial court, it could be “reasonably quantified” in terms of dollars, and such an award of damages “would have adequately made (the company) whole.” Typically that is enough to show such harm is not “irreparable” and therefore a preliminary injunction should be denied.

However, the trial court decided that no showing of actual harm was necessary to prove the irreparable harm element; it decided that the element of irreparable harm could instead be presumed. The court so decided “because both the DTSA … and the CUTSA … provide for injunctive relief.”

The Tenth Circuit reversed. The Tenth Circuit held that legislatures can create presumptions of irreparable harm but to do so they need to say so. Both DTSA and CUTSA lack such language. They merely allow for injunctive relief:

DTSA and CUTSA … merely authorize and do not mandate injunctive relief and thus do not allow a presumption of irreparable harm.

Without a presumption of irreparable harm and lacking proof of irreparable harm, the Tenth Circuit reversed.

The case illustrates the need to prove irreparable harm, in order to obtain a preliminary injunction in cases involving trade secrets. The case is also a reminder that irreparable harm cannot exist where monetary damages will make the plaintiff whole.

Source: FIRST WESTERN CAPITAL MANAGEMENT COMPANY v. MALAMED, Court of Appeals, 10th Circuit 2017 – Google Scholar

$1.3-million verdict overturned, where design was held to be publicly known, despite efforts to keep it confidential as a trade secret

Although publicly known information can be combined in proprietary ways that create a trade secret, the Colorado Court of Appeals held that a design that is not “a secret in the first place,” in other words, that is a matter “of public knowledge or of general knowledge in an industry” is not, itself, a trade secret, no matter how hard its owner works to keep it confidential, the design does not become a trade secret.

Lacking protection as a trade secret, the Court of Appeals reversed a jury’s $1.3-million verdict in this case for misappropriate in violation of Colorado’s trade secret laws.

The decision is a sharp reminder of the limitations imposed by Colorado law on companies seeking to claim trade secrets. The determination whether information constitutes a trade secret is often crucial in non-compete and non-solicit cases.

The case was Hawg Tools, LLC v. Newsco international Energy Services, Inc. — P.3d — (Colo.App. 2016).