As this blog has discussed before, non-compete agreements are a real problem. A new report from the Brookings Institution’s Hamilton Project seeks does a deep dive on this nationwide problem, compiling the most comprehensive recent studies on non-compete agreements. The report’s author, Matt Marx, has several key policy recommendations for lawmakers who want to promote economic growth rather than stifle it:
- Employers should inform employees if they will be required to sign a non-compete agreement before they accept the job. Employers routinely hide the fact that employees are required to agree to a non-compete until after an employee has accepted a position and presumably turned down other offers. (This takes away employees' negotiating power and hurts the economy.)
- If existing employees are asked to sign new non-compete agreement, employers should be required to compensate them. (In Texas, employers often require long-time employees to sign new non-compete agreements with the promise of nothing more than continued at-will employment.)
- Allow judges to rewrite overreaching non-compete agreements so that they are in-line with state law. (In Texas, judges already have this power. The problem is that in order to get the issue to a judge, a lawsuit needs to be filed by either the employer or employee, taking time and costing legal fees.)
- Give attorneys general the power to go after firms that require workers to sign predatory non-competes. (This could be helpful in some states. Unfortunately in Texas our current Attorney General would have no interest in helping Texas workers in this way.)
- Bolster non-disclosure agreements so that they make a better substitute for non-competes. (This sounds good but I'm not sure how much stronger they could be without creating a real imbalance of power in the workplace.)
Non-Compete agreements are not evil per se. In fact in some cases they make sense. But companies have gone way beyond using non-competes to protect legitimate trade secrets and now routinely abuse them in attempt to gain a competitive advantage over other businesses by keeping employees out of the labor pool.