New Expert Report Offers Policy Recommendations for Non-compete Agreements


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.)

You can read the entire report here.

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. 

2nd Circuit Rules Title VII Protects Against Employment Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation


In an en banc decision, The US Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in New York ruled on Monday that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a federal law that bans employment discrimination because of sex, also protects claims of discrimination based on sexual orientation.

"Sexual orientation discrimination is a subset of sex discrimination because sexual orientation is defined by one's sex in relation to the sex of those to whom one is attracted," a 10-3 opinion issued by the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals stated.

The court, based in New York, becomes the second appeals court to rule that the civil rights law covers discrimination based on sexual orientation. Last year, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a similar ruling. The ruling means that employees in those two circuits can use existing civil rights law to sue for discrimination based on sexual orientation. 

Eventually, this issue will likely work its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court.  

You can read the 2nd Circuit’s opinion here

The Weekend File - February 10, 2018

Trump Seeks to Undo Protections for Tipped Employees


Under the Obama administration’s 2011 regulations, tips, according to the Fair Labor Standard Act, are considered the “property of the employee,” specifically service-facing employees such as waiters, bussers and bartenders. Tips can be shared in a valid tip pool only among those employees but not with dishwashers, cooks, chefs and janitors, who are paid at least the federal minimum wage ($7.25 an hour) and therefore aren’t customarily tipped.

As it stands in Texas and most states, employers may take a “tip credit,” allowing them to pay their tipped service-facing staff less than the minimum wage, at $2.13 an hour, as long as workers' tips will bring that hourly pay up to $7.25. For some servers, a busy night could yield well more than that.

The Trump administration’s proposal would allow restaurants to keep tips for themselves or force waitstaff to share them with untipped workers such as cooks, dishwashers and other back-of-house employees.

Read the entire article at the Dallas Observer

News From Around The Web

Union Membership Plummets in Most Right-To-Work States


Terry Potter has an article out this past week on the insidious effect of so-called “Right to Work” laws on unionization across the country. As anticipated, the nationwide trend of enacting “right-to-work” (RTW) legislation has continued to grow – in the past few years alone, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, West Virginia, and Kentucky have joined the growing list of RTW states. In these states, and the approximately twenty others that have adopted RTW legislation, employers are prohibited from requiring employees to join a union or pay union dues as a condition of employment. This has caused dramatic drops in union membership over time.

If you had to pick only one reason for the vanishing middle class and the increasing gap between rich and poor in America, this would be it. Sadly, most workers don’t understand that they are voting against their own interests when they vote for “Right to Work” legislation or the politicians who push for such laws.

Visit Labor Relations Law Insider for the rest of the article.

Buc-ee’s Loses Texas Retention Agreement Case


A year after a trial court ordered that a former employee pay Buc-ee’s close to $100,000 in alleged damages and attorneys fees for breaching an employee “Retention Agreement”, a Texas court of appeals reversed that decision, ordering that Buc-ee’s take nothing on its claims against its former employee and also ordered that it pay for her legal fees as well. (Read my previous coverage of this case here.)

The employee in question, Kelly Rieves, was hired by the store as an assistant manager in Cypress, Texas for total compensation of about $55,000. She was hired as an at-will employee, meaning that the company could fire her for any reason at any time. But Buc-ee’s required her to sign an employment contract that is uncommon in the convenience store industry. It's called a "retention agreement".  

The contract Rieves signed divided her pay into two categories, regular pay and “retention pay." The amount allocated to "retention pay" accounted for approximately one-third of her total compensation. The contract allowed the store to recoup the retention pay should she fail to remain employed for a full 48-month term. The contract also required Rieves to give six months' notice before leaving. This is despite the fact that the company maintained the right to terminate Rieves prior to the end of the period. (The contract may or may not have contained notice provisions in favor of the employee that I am not privy to but it would not be required to have such provisions under Texas law.)

Three years later, Rieves decided to leave her job a year or so before her contract expired. We don't know her reasons but we do know she tried to work it out with the company first but her boss refused to let her out from under the contract. So she quit.

In response, Buc-ee’s sued her for the full amount of the retention pay she earned during her three years with the company -- an amount over $67,000.00. The trial court found against Rieves and awarded the company nearly $100,000.00 in damages and attorney’s fees.

Last week the court of appeals took that verdict back, ordering that Buc-ee’s take nothing on its claims against Rieves and that it pay for her legal fees as well. The court reasoned that the requirement that Rieves pay back such a large sum of money should she leave the company acted as a restraint of free trade and violated Texas’ employment-at-will doctrine. As a result, it could only be valid if it met the requirements of an actual noncompete agreement, which in Texas is controlled by statute. Because this agreement did not meet those requirements, it was not enforceable. 

Download a copy of the opinion.

 Buc-ee’s will now have to decide whether to appeal the matter further.