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AIM, Advocates Reach Deal on Protections for Pregnant Workers

Posted by Brad MacDougall on Mar 1, 2017 3:56:22 PM

Associated Industries of Massachusetts has reached agreement with the advocacy group MotherWoman on compromise legislation to extend employment protection to pregnant workers in Massachusetts.
Pregnant2.jpg
The contours of the agreement were established late last year and affirmed recently when Senator Joan Lovely of Salem and Representative David Rogers of Belmont refiled the compromise bill.

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would require employers to make reasonable workplace accommodations for pregnant employees — more frequent or longer breaks, temporary transfer to a less strenuous or hazardous position, a modified work schedule, or seating for those whose jobs require extended standing. Businesses would not have to provide those accommodations if doing so would create an undue business hardship, defined as something “requiring significant difficulty or expense.”

AIM opposed early versions of the bill during the 2015-2016 legislative session because of concern among employers that the legislation provided an applicant or employee with unlimited power to reject multiple and reasonable offers of accommodation by an employer. The compromise bill addresses that concern and others

Richard C. Lord, president and CEO of AIM, said “AIM was pleased to work together respectfully on this bill with Senator Lovely, former Representative Ellen Story, and advocates from MotherWoman.  It is easy to confuse opposition to a draft of a bill with opposition to the issue itself. AIM is always willing to work with those seeking honest and effective compromise. That is exactly what happened with this legislation.”

Other AIM concerns addressed by the bill:

  • Provides clarity regarding definitions and terms related to current employees in need of accommodations related to pregnancy.
  • Aligns state and federal laws regarding reasonable accommodation as it relates to the essential functions of the job.
  • Provides flexibility rather than a mandating specific types of accommodations for employers and employees.
  • Provides a reasonable mechanism for employees and the employer to achieve a reasonable accommodation by engaging in a defined process, eliminating a concern by businesses that an employee could reject multiple reasonable offers of accommodation.
  • Adds language allowing the employer to evaluate undue hardship of an accommodation and the ability of employee to perform the essential functions of the job as it relates to an employer’s program, enterprise or business.
  • Provides opportunity for an employer to request documentation for certain cases to ensure that accommodations are reasonable for both employees and employers.
  • Limits provisions to current employees instead of employees and job applicants.
  • Reduces unnecessary burdens and allows for electronic or other means other than a “poster” for notifying employees.
  • Allows for certain accommodations to be either paid or unpaid.

MotherWoman said in a statement: “We are excited that we've reached agreement on how to level the playing field for the hard-working women of Massachusetts.

"Through a great collaborative effort among legislative sponsors, Rep. Dave Rogers, Rep. Ellen Story and Sen. Joan Lovely, our dedicated legal advocates at A Better Balance, and the team at AIM — who were so generous with their time and their attention to detail — we have a better proposal, which led to the refiling of this bill. It’s an important support for moms, children and families, and it makes good sense for both employers and employees."

The compromise faces a long process of legislative consideration. Senator Lovely expects the refiled bill will go before the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development and its new chairs - Representative Paul Brodeur of Melrose and Senator Jason M. Lewis of Winchester - with a hearing scheduled later this year.

AIM and MotherWoman expect to support the measure at that time and hope that the bill will be considered by the full Legislature later in the session and sent to the governor for his approval.

Topics: Massachusetts Legislature, Employment Law

'Day Without a Woman' Poses Issues for Employers

Posted by Tom Jones on Feb 28, 2017 10:00:00 AM

Political activists are calling for women to stay home from work on March 8 as part of “A Day Without A Woman” general strike.

Womens March.jpgThe “one-day demonstration of economic solidarity” comes three weeks after a similar “Day Without Immigrants” caused thousands of people to remain out of work or to close their small businesses to protest Trump Administration policies on immigration. Some employers supported the walkout but at least 100 employees around the country who took part in the job action were fired.

Associated Industries of Massachusetts has taken no position on A Day Without a Woman, but since these strikes are expected to continue, the association believes it should help employers prepare to respond.

There are more questions than answers at this point, so our suggestion to employers is to proceed cautiously in dealing with employees who participate in the strike.

Issues to consider include:

  • Do employees have a legally protected right to skip work to protest or to support a political cause? If not, may an employer discipline employees who participate?
  • Are these employees on strike as defined under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), making it concerted - and thus legally protected - activity?
  • Does disciplinary action against immigrant employees equate to national-origin discrimination under federal and state law?
  • What, if anything, can an employer do to prevent employees from walking out?
  • How far may an employer go in monitoring employee political activities on/off the job?
  • May an employer terminate an employee for social media posts or for joining political groups?
  • Are there different rules for management versus non-management employees?
  • May employee use Paid Time Off or earned sick time to participate in the protest?
  • What constitutes reasonable advance notice for employees seeking to use Paid Time Off, vacation time or sick time?

The ability of employers to respond to workers who miss work to join political protests revolves largely around interpretation of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).

The act extends legal protections to non-union employees joining together to achieve a common end. So employers covered by the NLRA (i.e. nearly all employers in the U.S.) who take disciplinary action against employees for participating in a demonstration may expose themselves to a legal challenge.

The impact of losing an unfair labor practice case can be far reaching and expensive. It can also, in the extreme, result in a union being awarded representation even in the absence of an election.

Although disciplining an employee who doesn’t work a scheduled shift may be appropriate, employers need to make certain that it is consistent with company policies and practices and not impacted by the politics of the issue.

“The answer is somewhat murky,” says Charlotte Garden, an associate professor at the Seattle University School of Law in The Atlantic Magazine.

“The National Labor Relations Act protects workers’ rights to engage in concerted activity for mutual aid or protection, and the scope of what falls under that umbrella is quite broad. So it is likely that some forms of worker protest about the likely effects of Trump Administration policies on immigrant workers would be protected. But that protection would not necessarily include every tactic that workers might use.”

 

Are your hands completely tied? No.

Employers still have the right to enforce their existing attendance and notification policies. If someone fails to appear for work and does not to comply with the attendance policy, employers may take appropriate disciplinary action. Just be sure to avoid any possible action that may be construed as disparate treatment against one or more employees based on their legally protected status.

Employers should carefully review their attendance policy and determine if it achieves its intended purposes. Also, does the management team currently enforce the attendance policy as written? If not, it may be time to update and correct the practice and make sure all employees are aware of the policy. 

Please contact the AIM Employer Hotline at 800-470-6277 if you have questions.

 

Topics: Employment Law, Massachusetts employers, Donald Trump

Judge Puts Hold on New Overtime Regulations

Posted by Russ Sullivan on Nov 23, 2016 10:17:01 AM

Yesterday, a federal judge in Texas imposed an injunction effectively blocking changes to federal overtime laws that were to take effect on December 1.  The decision affects employers in all states, including Massachusetts.  In deciding the case, U.S. District Judge Amos Mazzant of the Eastern District of Texas ruled that the Department of Labor regulations exceeded its authority.  As a result, once again employers who scrambled to meet the new regulatory requirements find themselves in the difficult position of either undoing the changes they have made to comply or leaving those changes in place, as well as the associated costs.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) establishes overtime rules and the standards by which employees may be exempted from them.  Exemption requires that employees perform certain duties and be paid at a certain threshold level.  Although the FLSA does not specify that employees must be paid at a certain threshold, regulations issued by the Department of Labor in 1940 and updated numerous times since then have set a minimum salary threshold as one of the requirements for exemption from overtime.  The salary threshold was most recently updated in 2004 to $455.00 per week, or $23,660 per year.

The Department of Labor’s new regulations, issued in May and scheduled to take effect on December 1, would more than double the threshold to $913.00 per week, or $47,476.00.  In his ruling Judge Mazzant stated the increase of this magnitude would “supplant” the duties test, adding that responsibility belonging to Congress, not the DOL.

The eleventh hour ruling means that many employers who have already implemented changes to employee’s pay and timekeeping procedures now have to decide if they want to roll back those change or just forge ahead.  Unfortunately, many employers have already communicated these pay and procedural changes.  For these employees, it will be difficult to take advantage of the injunction and delay any changes until a final ruling is made.

Unknown at this time is whether the DOL will appeal the ruling.  Ultimately, the court process may drag on while the new Congress takes action to undo the regulations.  Employers may want to communicate to employees the current uncertainty and that they will be monitoring developments.  In the meantime, employers who have not implemented or communicated changes should sit and wait.  Those who have implemented or communicated changes should assess the business and employee relations impact of undoing these changes and determine whether they will proceed as planned or return to prior practices.+++

Topics: Employment Law, Overtime

A Statesmanlike Approach to Non-Competes

Posted by Rick Lord on Jul 25, 2016 7:54:02 AM

The 19th-century British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli defined a statesman as “essentially a practical character” who works “to ascertain the needful, and the beneficial, and the most feasible manner in which affairs are to be carried on. 

DeLeo2016.jpgMassachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo displayed admirable statesmanship and determination in forging a consensus wage-equity bill under which workers will be fairly compensated regardless of gender while employers retain the ability to design competitive pay plans to attract and retain skilled employees. The bill won unanimous approval Saturday and is now on Governor Charlie Baker's desk.

Now, the speaker is putting his statesman’s hat back on in an effort to pass a compromise bill governing the use of non-compete agreements in Massachusetts. His efforts deserve the full-throated support of the employer community.

You know the non-compete issue by now. AIM has fought relentlessly for several years on behalf the vast majority of Massachusetts employers who wish to preserve the use of non-compete agreements to protect intellectual property. Efforts to ban the use of non-competes have been driven by a small group of well-heeled venture capitalists who cannot seem to master the idea that if you don’t like non-competes, just don’t use them.

Speaker DeLeo, as he did with wage equity, reached out to AIM and other business organizations to understand the concerns that employers had with a possible ban on non-competes. He wanted to limit the use of non-competes with low-income workers, teen-agers, interns and other categories of workers without harming companies seeking to prevent the loss of trade secrets worth millions of dollars.

The result was a compromise bill endorsed by the employer community that would limit non-competes to one year and give employees the opportunity to consult a lawyer when signing a non-compete, but not require companies that compensate employees at the time they sign non-competes to pay them again during the restricted period. The bill passed 149-0.

But the state Senate ignored the speaker’s carefully crafted compromise and passed its own bill with Draconian restrictions that would effectively end of the use of the documents in the Bay State. The Senate measure would limit non-compete agreements to three months and require employers to pay the full salary of the former employee during the restricted period. The bill would exempt anyone earning $130,000 or less from non-competes.

The issue now rests with a conference committee that will attempt to hammer out the differences between the two versions.

But the compromise and statesmanship on non-competes has already taken place. We urge the Senate to recognize the balanced compromise woven by Speaker DeLeo and to adopt the House version of the non-compete bill.

And we're not alone. Baker on Saturday announced that he supports the House bill "because he believes it better balances workers' abilities to seek new employment while ensuring cutting edge businesses can protect essential intellectual property."

AIM urges all its members to contact the conference committee and urge them to adopt the House version.

  Contact the Conference Commiittee

Topics: Employment Law, Non-Compete Agreements, Intellectual Property

Legislature Approves Compromise Wage-Equity Bill

Posted by Brad MacDougall on Jul 21, 2016 3:20:57 PM

The Massachusetts Legislature unanimously passed on Saturday a compromise pay-equity bill hammered out among House leaders, the attorney general and the business community. The measure now goes to Governor Charlie Baker.

StateHouse-resized-600.png“The business community is gratified that legislative leaders are moving forward with a bill that ensures fair compensation for all workers while allowing employers to attract and retain skilled employees,” said Richard C. Lord, President and Chief Executive Officer of AIM.

“House Speaker Robert DeLeo and his leadership team deserve tremendous credit for reaching out directly to AIM and really listening to the concerns of employers.”

The legislation is intended to promote salary transparency, limit upfront questions to job candidates about salary history, and encourage companies to conduct reviews to detect pay disparities. It explicitly recognizes legitimate market forces such as performance and the competitive landscape for certain skills that cause pay differences among employees. 

That recognition will allow employers to continue to reward star performers and to compete in the white-hot market for workers with skills such as computer programming, engineering, advanced manufacturing and biosciences.

The bill states that “no employer shall discriminate in any way on the basis of gender in the payment of wages, or pay any person in its employ a salary or wage rate less than the rates paid to its employees of a different gender for comparable work.” Wage differentials are permitted, however, based upon:

  • a system that rewards seniority with the employer
  • a merit system
  • a system that measures earnings by quantity or quality of production, sales, or revenue
  • the geographic location in which a job is performed
  • education, training or experience to the extent such factors are reasonably related to the particular job in question; or
  • travel, if the travel is a regular and necessary condition of the particular job.

There were several additional provisions that persuaded AIM and its 4,000 member employers to support the House bill:

  • It provides a three-year affirmative defense from liability to employers who conduct a self-evaluation of their pay practices in good faith and can demonstrate that reasonable progress has been made towards eliminating wage differentials based on gender for comparable work. The self-evaluation may be of the employer’s own design, so long as it is reasonable in detail and scope in light of the size of the employer, or may be consistent with standard templates or forms issued by the attorney general.
  • Affirms the ability of employers to protect the confidential information about employee wages should another employee seek that information.

John Regan, Executive Vice President of Government Affairs for AIM, credited DeLeo, Speaker Pro Temp Patricia Haddad of Somerset, House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Brian Dempsey of Haverhill and Attorney General Healey for developing a workable compromise on pay equity.

The law would take effect on July 1, 2018.

 

Topics: Employment Law, Pay Equity

Senate Takes Step Back on Non-Competes

Posted by Brad MacDougall on Jul 15, 2016 11:33:12 AM

The Massachusetts Senate took a dramatic step backward yesterday on non-compete agreements, passing Draconian restrictions that would effectively end of the use of the documents in the Bay State.

ScalesofJusticeVerySmall.jpgThe Senate passed by voice vote a measure that would limit non-compete agreements to three months and require employers to pay the full salary of the former employee during the restricted period. The bill would exempt anyone earning $130,000 or less from non-competes.

The Senate measure stands in marked contrast to a compromise version passed by the House in late June that allows one-year non-competes and not require companies that compensate employees at the time they sign non-competes to pay them again during the restricted period.

Lawmakers will have to reconcile all those differences before the session ends on July 31 if a non-compete bill is to become law. 

“Employers support the House bill, period,” said John Regan, Executive Vice President of Government Affairs at AIM.

“House leaders worked with people on all sides of the issue and came up with a reasonable compromise that protects the rights of both employers and workers. The idea that you would now compromise a compromise makes no sense.”

Employers believe selective use of non-competes protects the significant investments that allow their companies to be global leaders in their industries and to create jobs in the commonwealth.  The compromise legislation begins to recognize that Massachusetts employers need flexibility and legal options to protect intellectual property. 

AIM continues to maintain that there is no evidence that the use of non-compete agreements harms Massachusetts’ position as a globally recognized leader in innovation. In fact, Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filings indicate that the well-heeled venture capitalists pushing to limit non-competes use such agreements themselves.

Employers have articulated several provisions that would be required for them to support a bill limiting non-competes:

  • Minimum one-year duration.
  • A “garden leave” provision that requires the employer to pay 50% of the employees’ prorated salary during the restricted period, or other mutually-agreed upon compensation.
  • Maintaining and clarifying the ability of a court to reform or alter non-compete contracts to ensure that both parties are treated fairly.
  • Those subject to non-compete agreements would have to be given prior notice of the need to sign the agreement, as well as the opportunity to consult with legal counsel.
  • The non-compete would extend to a second year should an employee unlawfully take property belonging to the employer, as included in the House version.

 

Topics: Employment Law, Non-Compete Agreements

AIM Backs Compromise Wage-Equity Bill

Posted by Brad MacDougall on Jul 13, 2016 1:38:28 PM

Associated Industries of Massachusetts announced that it supports compromise pay-equity legislation passed by the House of Representatives on Thursday.

Fourpeople.jpgThe bill recommended late yesterday by the House Ways and Means Committee follows weeks of intensive negotiations among AIM, House leaders at Attorney General Maura Healey. AIM unequivocally supports pay equity, but opposed previous versions of the measure that would have limited the ability of employers to attract and retain skilled employees.

“The compromise ensures that workers will be fairly compensated without regard to gender but instead according to the value they bring to the business enterprise,” said Richard C. Lord, President and Chief Executive Officer of AIM.

“The Board of Directors of AIM very much wanted to support a pay-equity initiative, so we rolled up our sleeves and worked collaboratively with the House and the Attorney General to develop to ensure that the bill worked both for employees and employers.”

The legislation is intended to promote salary transparency, limit upfront questions to job candidates about salary history, and encourage companies to conduct reviews to detect pay disparities. Unlike the overly proscriptive bill passed by the Senate in April, the House version explicitly recognizes legitimate market forces such as performance and the competitive landscape for certain skills that cause pay differences among employees. 

That recognition will allow employers to continue to reward star performers and to compete in the white-hot market for workers with skills such as computer programming, engineering, advanced manufacturing and biosciences.

The bill states that “no employer shall discriminate in any way on the basis of gender in the payment of wages, or pay any person in its employ a salary or wage rate less than the rates paid to its employees of a different gender for comparable work.” Wage differentials are permitted, however, based upon:

  • a system that rewards seniority with the employer
  • a merit system
  • a system that measures earnings by quantity or quality of production, sales, or revenue
  • the geographic location in which a job is performed
  • education, training or experience to the extent such factors are reasonably related to the particular job in question; or
  • travel, if the travel is a regular and necessary condition of the particular job.

There were several additional provisions that persuaded AIM and its 4,500 member employers to support the House bill:

  • It provides a three-year affirmative defense from liability to employers who conduct a self-evaluation of their pay practices in good faith and can demonstrate that reasonable progress has been made towards eliminating wage differentials based on gender for comparable work. The self-evaluation may be of the employer’s own design, so long as it is reasonable in detail and scope in light of the size of the employer, or may be consistent with standard templates or forms issued by the attorney general.
  • It eliminates an outright ban on salary-history questions contained in the Senate version and replaces it with language that allows an employee to voluntary disclose salary information and then allows an employer to ask the employee to confirm prior wages after an offer has been made.
  • Affirms the ability of employers to protect the confidential information about employee wages should another employee seek that information.

“The bill is not perfect, but that is the nature of compromise and negotiation,” Lord said. “But the bottom line is that employers committed to hiring the best people regardless of gender may continue to design their compensation programs based upon market conditions.

AIM and its member employers are committed to providing fair compensation to employees according to the value and success they bring to our enterprises. In an economy where skilled workers remain at a premium, any company that does not value all of its employees equally is unlikely to be around very long.

John Regan, Executive Vice President of Government Affairs for AIM, credited House Speaker Robert DeLeo, Speaker Pro Temp Patricia Haddad of Somerset, House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Brian Dempsey of Haverhill and Attorney General Healey for listening to the concerns of employers.

“We continue to believe that the best long-term strategy to achieve pay equity in the workplace is to ensure that both women and men possess the education and skills that allow our enterprises to succeed an in increasingly complex global economy,” Regan said.

The law would take effect on July 1, 2018.

Topics: Employment Law, wage equity

Transgender Law Will Have Modest Effect on Business

Posted by Tom Jones on Jul 11, 2016 3:38:03 PM

The transgender-rights bill signed last Friday by Governor Charlie Baker may be a landmark piece of social legislation, but it is expected to have a modest effect on Massachusetts employers who have operated since 2012 under a law barring discrimination based upon gender identity.

statehousedome.jpgMassachusetts joins a growing list of states across the country in adopting some form of legal protections for transgender people. More than 100 advocates joined Attorney General Maura Healey, Boston Mayor J. Walsh, Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, and House Speaker Robert DeLeo on the State House steps this morning to mark passage of the legislation.

The issue for many employers was addressed four years ago with the adoption of the gender identity amendment to the Massachusetts anti-discrimination law. The law states that if an employee faces discrimination due to gender identity, or is not accommodated in transition, the employee may have a legal claim against the employer.

The principal focus of new law is access for transgender people to places of public accommodation -meaning places that offer products or services to members of the public. Massachusetts courts have generally defined “public accommodation” broadly so businesses that invite the public in will be covered under the law.

Examples of public accommodation include stores, restaurants, malls and theaters. A company that invites the public for tours or free samples may also be covered. So if transgender sales representative were to visit a facility and was turned away due to gender identity or denied access to use the restroom, the action could violate the law.

Employers need to review current policies and practices to ensure compliance. That may involve informing and training supervisors and other managers about the existence of the law, its impact in the workplace and where they can go with questions.

Parts of the law take effect immediately, other sections take effect this autumn.

As of September 1, the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination and the Attorney General’s office will adopt regulations in support of the implementation of the law, including when and how gender identity, may be shown.

Topics: Employment Law, Discrimination

House Non-Compete Bill Seeks Middle Ground

Posted by Brad MacDougall on Jun 28, 2016 1:20:25 PM

The Massachusetts House of Representatives voted 149-0 Thursday to approve compromise legislation governing the use of non-compete agreements.

ScalesofJusticeVerySmall.jpgAssociated Industries of Massachusetts has opposed efforts to ban or limit the use of non-competes, but has also engaged in productive discussions with House Speaker Robert DeLeo on the issue.

“AIM recognizes and appreciates the approach that Speaker DeLeo has taken in the debate over non-compete agreements,” said John Regan, Executive Vice President of Government Affairs at AIM.

“The speaker recognizes the need to protect business interests at a time when non-competes are a vital part of protecting investments and ideas created by employers of all sizes and from all industries. As the speaker has noted in the past, Massachusetts cannot be an ‘invented here and manufactured elsewhere’ commonwealth.”

The House proposal makes three positive changes from legislation originally advanced by the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Labor & Workforce Development.  The changes address some of the major concerns expressed by AIM and other members of the business community in a June 20 meeting with Speaker DeLeo:

  • Garden Leave: A provision that would have required employers to pay workers half their salary during the restricted period of a non-compete agreement has been modified to recognize “other mutually-agreed upon consideration between the employer and the employee.” That means companies that compensate employees at the time they sign non-competes would not have to pay them again during the restricted period. While AIM would prefer to eliminate the “garden leave” provision entirely, the revision provides some flexibility to employers.
  • Amending contracts:  The compromise legislation would allow courts to reform or alter non-compete contracts to ensure that both parties are treated fairly.  Previous language would have forced a court to invalidate a contract in full. 
  • Effective date: The legislation would provide time for businesses to update contracts by moving the effective date from July 1 to October 1, 2016.  As previously proposed, the law would not apply retroactively to contracts signed as of October 1, 2016.

AIM has expressed support for several provisions of the revised bill that clearly define the conditions under which non-competes may be used:

  • Non-compete agreements could be only one year in duration.
  • Those subject to non-compete agreements would have to be given prior notice of the need to sign the agreement, as well as the opportunity to consult with legal counsel.
  • The non-compete would extend to a second year should an employee unlawfully take property belonging to the employer.

Amid these improvements, concerns remain.  AIM urges the House of Representative to consider several changes:

  • Stock options:  Make stock-option offerings exempt from being directly tied to non-compete agreements since such grants are used for attracting and retaining talent.
  • Exemptions:  Change the criteria under which workers would be exempt from non-competes from the Fair Labor Standards Act to a standard that relies on the minimum wage.
  • Garden Leave: Make technical changes to underscore the fact that non-compete agreements are often part of broader standardized national or international compensation plans.
  • Choice of Law Provision: Strike language that sets arbitrary rules for selecting the court where a claim may be brought.
  • Garden Leave exemption:  Create language to allow a non-compete to remain enforceable when an employee receives a severance payment or other long-term compensation.
  • Independent Contractors: Strike language that defines employee to include independent contractors within the definition of full-time employee. 
  • Damages:  Strike language that would preclude an employer from recouping damages or costs associated with a stolen “sales list” if an employee were to leave voluntarily.

AIM continues to maintain that there is no evidence that the use of non-compete agreements harms Massachusetts’ position as as a globally recognized leader in innovation. In fact, Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filings indicate that the well-heeled venture capitalists pushing to limit non-competes use such agreements themselves.

Employers believe selective use of non-competes protects the significant investments that allow their companies to be global leaders in their industries and to create jobs in the commonwealth.  The compromise legislation begins to recognize that Massachusetts employers need flexibility and legal options to protect intellectual property. 

AIM looks forward to working with members of the Legislature to address the changes that remain to be made.

Employers seeking to learn more about the non-compete issue may contact me at bmacdougall@aimnet.org.

 

Topics: Speaker Robert DeLeo, Employment Law, Massachusetts House of Representatives, Non-Compete Agreements

New Non-Compete Bill: Progress, But Issues Remain

Posted by Brad MacDougall on May 18, 2016 12:04:51 PM

The Massachusetts Legislature’s Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development on Monday released a non-compete reform bill containing provisions outlined by House Speaker Robert DeLeo in March.

ScalesofJusticeVerySmall.jpgThe measure is the latest iteration of a years-long battle by venture capitalists to ban or limit the use of non-compete agreements in Massachusetts. AIM has so far opposed changes to the non-compete law, believing the non-compete issue is about choice for both individuals and employers who should be free to negotiate contracts of mutual benefit as long as the employee is a part of the process.

AIM supports the following provisions of the Labor and Workforce Development bill:

  • Non-compete agreements could be only one year in duration.
  • Those subject to non-compete agreements would have to be given prior notice of the need to sign the agreement, as well as the opportunity to consult with legal counsel.
  • Extension of the non-compete to a second year should the employee unlawfully take property belonging to the employer.

AIM opposes the following provisions:

  • Imposition of a so called “garden leave” provision requiring that at least 50 percent compensation for the duration of a non-compete period. As one AIM-member lawyer noted, “This is not a law anywhere in the country. Moreover, most Massachusetts businesses are small and could not afford to protect their investments with this type of provision.”
  • Creation of multiple opportunities for a plaintiff or a court to void a non-compete contract. It is critical for a business to have confidence that their non-competes will be held up in court.
  • Non-competes would become invalid for employees who are terminated or laid off. As one western Massachusetts manufacturer noted, “The risk to employer is still alive and well if the terminated employee takes that information and goes to a direct competitor.”
  • A prohibition against courts reforming a contract, a provision that would make it likely that contracts would be voided. It is a long-standing and common practice for a court to reform an agreement rather than set it aside. As one AIM member noted, “The power and ability to reform a non-compete contract is a bedrock principle in equity. It is the primary way for the courts to make a fair and just ruling on the enforcement of a non-compete agreement. The courts take substantial evidence from the parties on an enforcement action, and thus is in the position to assess same and make a ruling which is ‘customized’ to the situation at hand. This a best practice that has allowed for proper and equitable application of non-compete agreements for over a hundred years”
  • Arbitrary rules for selecting the court where a claim may be brought.
  • Exemptions for certain workers for whom a non-compete would be invalid. AIM is concerned that changes announced today to the federal Fair Labor Standards Act will make these exemptions applicable to a broad swath of the work force. One AIM member from Fall River noted, that “In reality, how someone is paid (and how much) has little or nothing to do with what confidential or proprietary business information they may be exposed to. This has a big impact to small businesses.”

AIM has concerns about other sections of the legislation:

  • The manner in which the proposal captures independent contractors within the definition of full-time employee.
  • The chance that an employer may be precluded from recouping damages or costs associated with a stolen “sales list” if an employee were to voluntarily leave.
  • The requirement that a company reveal certain aspects of a specific trade secret through the court and discovery process. The court process and the manner in which trade and other business interests are protected in court should be given further analysis.
  • The aggressive implementation date of July 1, 2016. Given the significant challenge of changing legal documents, especially given new changes imposed by the defense of trade secret law

“AIM appreciates the approach that Speaker DeLeo has taken in the public policy debate over non-compete agreements,” said John Regan, Executive Vice President of Government Affairs at AIM.

“The Speaker clearly recognizes the need to protect business interests at a time when non-competes are a vital part of protecting investments and ideas created by employers of all sizes and from all industries. As the Speaker has noted in the past, Massachusetts cannot be an ‘invented here and manufactured elsewhere’ commonwealth.”

AIM looks forward to working with members of the Legislature to address these concerns.

AIM members may learn more about the non-compete issue by contacting Brad MacDougall, bmacdougall@aimnet.org.

Topics: Employment Law, Massachusetts employers, Non-Compete Agreements

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