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Understanding the FTC's Ban on Non-Competes

Chris Hanslik

by Chris Hanslik

April 24, 2024

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In a significant regulatory shift, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has announced a new rule that effectively bans non-competition agreements across the United States. Also known as non-competes, these are clauses in a contract that specify that an employee must not enter into competition with an employer after termination. Intended to promote labor mobility and competition, the rule becomes effective in four months and could have profound implications for both employees and businesses of all sizes. However, several trade groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, plan to sue the FTC over the rule and seek a stay delaying its implementation.

Overview of the New Rule

The FTC’s new rule targets non-competition clauses that restrict employees from joining a competitor or starting a similar business after leaving a company. Such clauses have been common in employment contracts, particularly in industries where proprietary knowledge and skills are highly valued. The FTC argues that these agreements have stifled wage growth, innovation, and overall economic dynamism by unfairly limiting workers’ employment opportunities.

Effects on Businesses if the New Rule Goes Into Effect

1. Talent Retention and Recruitment:

The most immediate impact of the rule will be on how businesses manage talent. Companies will no longer be able to rely on non-compete clauses to retain top performers. This could lead to increased turnover, especially in high-skill sectors where employees may now seek better offers more freely. Conversely, it may also simplify hiring by removing legal barriers that previously made recruiting from competitors problematic.

2. Protection of Trade Secrets:

With the elimination of non-compete agreements, businesses might face greater challenges in protecting the trade secrets and proprietary information that differentiate themselves and make them competitive. Companies will need to enhance other legal strategies, such as strengthening non-disclosure and confidentiality agreements, to safeguard their intellectual assets.

3. Wage Dynamics:

Economists suggest that the ban could lead to higher wages as companies might have to offer better compensation to retain their best employees. The increased competition for skilled labor could result in a more dynamic job market, where wages are driven by demand for specific skills rather than restricted by contractual limitations.

4. Business Strategy and Operations:

Businesses may need to adjust their strategies to account for a potentially more mobile workforce. This could include investing more in employee training and development as a means of retention, as well as rethinking how knowledge and skills are managed within the company.

5. Legal and Compliance:

The rule change will require businesses to review and potentially revise their existing employment contracts. Legal departments and HR teams will need to ensure that their company’s employment practices comply with the new FTC regulation to avoid legal challenges and penalties.

6. Impact on Small Business:

The ban on non-competition agreements could allow small businesses to tap into a broader talent pool and spur innovation but may also challenge them to retain employees and protect trade secrets without these clauses. Increased labor competition may drive up wages, benefiting employees but potentially raising costs for employers. Small businesses will likely incur additional legal and operational expenses as they adjust their employment practices to comply with the new FTC rule.

7. Potential Penalties

Violating the FTC’s new rule on non-competition agreements may lead to enforcement actions and court orders against the offending business that if ignored may result in civil penalties. In addition to legal consequences, companies could also suffer reputational damage that affects their business relationships and standing in the market.

Industry Reactions and Concerns

Reactions to the FTC’s decision have been mixed. While many labor advocates applaud the rule as a victory for workers’ rights and economic fairness, some industry groups have expressed concerns. They argue that the ban might hinder innovation by making it easier for employees to transfer sensitive information between competitors. There are also worries about the administrative and financial burden on businesses needing to revise their contractual practices and policies.


As the new FTC rule on non-competition agreements is set to reshape the American workplace, both businesses and employees must prepare for the changes it will bring. While the rule promises to enhance job mobility and wage growth, it also poses new challenges in terms of talent management and intellectual property protection. Businesses will need to adapt swiftly to thrive in this new regulatory environment, emphasizing flexibility and strategic planning in their approach to workforce management.

It’s essential for businesses to seek legal advice to ensure compliance and avoid these potential penalties. Contact us today to learn how we can support your business in this rapidly evolving landscape.

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