Noncompete compromise appears likely, but it could be a stepping stone to full ban


The current state legislative session ends July 31, and if anything is going to be done about noncompete clauses—even a compromise between opponents and supporters of the status quo—it’ll need to be done by then.

A compromise does appear in the Senate version of  the economic development bill: it would ban noncompetes that last longer than six months, though it would only apply to agreements signed from the beginning of 2015 onward (i.e., it wouldn’t affect existing noncompetes). That compromise will still need to make it through a conference committee between members of the Senate and House, which didn’t include any changes to noncompete law.

Many in the local innovation economy have urged lawmakers to re-consider a full ban, but that doesn’t appear likely to happen.

At least not this session. The campaign against noncompetes has been spearheaded in recent months by the New England Venture Capital Association, and executive director C.A. Webb said even a compromise is a good step forward—and could open the door to a full ban at a future legislative session. Webb said she has been meeting with state lawmakers one-on-one, and emphasizing how noncompetes affect many workers outside the tech industry. A survey sponsored by the NEVCA and released this week found that more than half of Massachusetts residents oppose the clauses.

“Over the course of an hour of explaining how this works [to the lawmakers], and how there is an alternative mechanism for protecting intellectual property, nearly without fail every senator or representative will say, ‘Wow, I had no idea how destructive these were,’” Webb said.

By continuing those meetings into the next session, she believes the effort to ban noncompetes outright could still prevail in the future.

“It’s a ground war. It’s time-consuming,” Webb said. But she plans to keep at it “until we’ve educated the whole Legislature.”

Image of a chain breaking via Shutterstock.

Kyle Alspach has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since 2005 and was one of the original staff writers at BetaBoston.
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