Colorado passes new law severely limiting restrictive employment agreements, including non-competes, non-solicits and even some non-disclosures
Colorado passed HB 22-1317, which severely limits restrictive employment agreements, including non-competes, non-solicits and even some non-disclosures. HB 22-1317 is currently before the Governor where it is expected to become law without veto.
HB 22-1317 applies only to agreements containing such provisions if entered into on or after 8/10/2022; however, the Act contemplates the possibility that a referendum petition will be filed by voters to contest it, in which case HB 22-1317 provides it will be held in abeyance without any part taking effect until after the November 2022 state election. Absent a successful challenge by referendum in this fall’s vote, HB 22-1317 will entirely restructure Colorado’s longstanding law in this area, CRS 8-2-113.
First, like existing Colorado law, HB 22-1317 renders void all non-competes unless they fall into certain defined exceptions. However, unlike existing Colorado law, HB 22-1317 significantly limits the available exceptions to only the following three categories:
- Covenants associated with the sale of a business, which can include sales arranged as so-called asset deals.
- Covenants that (a) are no broader than what is reasonably necessary to protect trade secrets (b) so long as the individual earns enough to qualify as a “highly compensated worker,” a legally defined phrase with a minimum earning level set by the CDLE, currently at $101,250 per year. Note: HB 22-1317 does not permit such covenants for the protection of mere confidential information; the information must instead rise to the level of a “trade secret” as otherwise defined in and protected by Colorado law.
- Mere non-solicits for customers (not non-competes) if the worker earns at least 60% of the “highly compensated worker” amount (currently $101,250×60%=$60,750 per year).
Note: Under HB 22-1317 there is no longer an exception permitting non-competes for “executive and management personnel and officers and employees who constitute professional staff to executive and management personnel.”
Second, each of those three exceptions are available only after a new written notice is provided. HB 22-1317 will require that written notice be provided (a) to prospective workers before the worker accepts the offer of employment and (b) to current workers at least 14 days before the covenant will be effective or additional compensation is provided or a change in the employee’s terms or conditions of employment occurs as consideration for the covenants, whichever is earlier. The written notice must be provided in a document separate from whatever document contains the covenants. It must be written in “clear and conspicuous terms in the language in which the worker and employer communicate about the worker’s performance.” It must be signed by the worker. Copies must be made available upon request by the worker once per year. The notice must either provide a copy of the agreement containing the covenant or identify that agreement “by name and state() that the agreement contains a covenant not to compete that could restrict the workers’ options for subsequent employment following their separation from the employer.” The notice must “direct() the worker to the specific sections or paragraphs of the agreement that contain the covenant not to compete.”
HB 22-1317 makes additional revisions to an employer’s ability to impose covenant-like restrictions in the event the employer provides employer-paid training (which does not generally include “normal, on-the-job” training) and in situations involving physicians.
Next, HB 22-1317 prohibits non-disclosure agreements (confidentiality agreements) to the extent they seek to protect “general training, knowledge, skill or experience whether gained on the job or otherwise.” Nor can such an agreement apply to “information that is readily ascertainable to the public, or information that a worker otherwise has a right to disclose as legally protected conduct.”
It is not clear from HB 22-1317 if its written notice requirements apply to non-disclosure agreements (confidentiality agreements). It appears on its face as drafted that HB 22-1317 only requires such written notice for covenants not to compete, which may include non-solicits (to the extent within the above three exceptions) and not for a non-disclosure agreement (confidentiality agreement) that contains no non-compete and no non-solicit.
HB 22-1317 also prohibits contrary choice of law and choice of forum provisions; if a worker resides primarily in or works in Colorado, at the time of termination, Colorado law will apply, and the worker may not be required to litigate outside of Colorado.
HB 22-1317 imposes new penalties and permits the Colorado Attorney General to take action directly against a violating employer. Both employees and the Colorado Attorney General can bring a declaratory action to invalidate violative covenants.
Employers should review all agreements containing covenants in Colorado. This includes not only formal non-compete/non-solicit agreements, but also confidentiality (non-disclosure, aka proprietary information agreements). This includes all agreements such clauses, for example, any equity incentive agreements, restrictive stock grants, stock option awards, etc. Employers are reminded to review not only for going-forward compliance in terms of such covenants but also their choice of law and choice of forum provisions.