FTC’s New Rule Banning Noncompete Clauses Effective September 2024

In a landmark decision, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has issued a final rule that will ban noncompete clauses nationwide, effective September 4, 2024. This ruling represents a significant shift in employment law and has far-reaching implications for both employers and employees across various industries.

Overview of the FTC’s Final Rule

The FTC’s decision to ban noncompete clauses is rooted in its mission to promote competition and protect consumers. Noncompete clauses have been criticized for limiting workers’ mobility and suppressing wages by preventing employees from seeking better opportunities. The FTC’s new rule aims to address these issues by prohibiting employers from including noncompete clauses in most employment contracts.

Key Provisions of the Rule

  1. Nationwide Ban on Noncompete Clauses: The rule applies to all employers in the United States, regardless of the industry or the size of the company. It bans the use of noncompete clauses in both new and existing employment contracts.
  2. Retroactive Application: Employers must rescind any existing noncompete agreements by the effective date. This retroactive application ensures that current employees are immediately freed from any restrictions imposed by these clauses.
  3. Notification Requirement: Employers are required to inform employees about the rescission of noncompete clauses. This notification must be clear and concise, ensuring that employees understand their new rights under the FTC’s rule.

Exceptions and Limitations

While the FTC’s rule establishes a general prohibition on noncompete clauses, it recognizes certain exceptions and limitations where noncompete clauses may still be permissible:

  1. Sale of a Business: Noncompete clauses may be allowed in the context of the sale of a business. Specifically, when an individual selling a business agrees not to compete with the buyer in a specified geographic area for a limited time, this noncompete clause may be enforceable. This exception is intended to protect the value of the business being sold and ensure that the buyer receives the full benefit of their purchase.
  2. Franchise Agreements: Noncompete clauses in franchise agreements may be exempt if they meet certain conditions. These clauses often prevent franchisees from opening competing businesses within a certain area during and after the franchise relationship to protect the franchisor’s brand and business model.
  3. Senior Executives and High-Level Managers: In some cases, noncompete clauses for senior executives or high-level managers may be permitted. This exception is based on the rationale that these individuals have access to sensitive information and significant influence over the company’s strategic direction.
  4. Other Specific Situations: The FTC may recognize other specific situations where noncompete clauses are necessary to protect legitimate business interests, provided they meet stringent criteria.

Legal Challenges to the Rule

The FTC’s rule banning noncompete clauses is already facing significant legal challenges. Various stakeholders, including business groups and trade associations, argue that the FTC overstepped its regulatory authority in implementing such a sweeping change. These legal challenges are likely to result in prolonged litigation, and the ultimate fate of the FTC’s rule may be determined by the courts. Businesses and employees should stay informed about developments in these legal battles, as they could impact the implementation and enforcement of the rule.

Implications for Employers

Employers will need to review and revise their employment contracts to comply with the new rule. This involves not only removing noncompete clauses from new contracts but also rescinding existing agreements and notifying affected employees. Additionally, employers may need to consider alternative methods to protect their legitimate business interests, such as non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) and non-solicitation clauses, which are not affected by the FTC’s rule.

Implications for Employees

For employees, the ban on noncompete clauses is a significant victory. It provides greater freedom to seek new employment opportunities without fear of legal repercussions. This increased mobility is expected to lead to higher wages and better working conditions as employees can more easily move to positions that match their skills and career aspirations.

Compliance and Enforcement

The FTC has indicated that it will vigorously enforce the new rule. Employers found in violation may face substantial penalties. Therefore, it is crucial for businesses to take immediate steps to ensure compliance by the September 4, 2024, deadline.

Potential Penalties and Damages for Violations

Violating the FTC’s rule on noncompete clauses can result in significant consequences for employers. The FTC is committed to enforcing this rule and ensuring compliance through various penalties and remedies, which include:

  1. Civil Penalties: Employers found in violation of the rule may be subject to substantial civil penalties. The FTC has the authority to impose fines for each instance of noncompliance, which can quickly add up for employers with multiple violations.
  2. Injunctions: The FTC may seek court orders to enjoin employers from continuing to use noncompete clauses. This means that the court can issue orders requiring employers to cease the use of such clauses and to take corrective actions.
  3. Rescission of Agreements: Employers may be required to rescind any noncompete clauses found to be in violation of the rule. This includes nullifying existing agreements and notifying employees that the clauses are no longer enforceable.
  4. Monetary Damages: Affected employees may seek monetary damages for losses incurred due to unlawful noncompete clauses. This can include compensation for lost wages, benefits, and other financial harms resulting from restricted employment opportunities.
  5. Additional Remedies: The FTC may also impose other remedies as deemed necessary to ensure compliance and protect employees’ rights. This could include corrective advertising or other measures to inform employees of their rights under the new rule.

Existing Noncompete Laws in Washington State

Washington State has already implemented specific laws regarding noncompete clauses that are more restrictive than those in many other states. These laws were enacted to promote fair competition and protect workers’ rights within the state.

Washington State Noncompete Law Overview

  1. Effective Date: The current noncompete law in Washington State took effect on January 1, 2020. It significantly altered the enforceability of noncompete clauses within the state.
  2. Income Threshold: Under Washington law, noncompete clauses are unenforceable against employees and independent contractors earning less than a certain threshold amount each year.  These thresholds are adjusted annually for inflation.  As of 2024, the thresholds are $120,559.99​ for employees and $301,399.98 for independent contractors.
  3. Duration Limitation: Noncompete clauses lasting longer than 18 months are presumed unreasonable and unenforceable unless the employer can provide clear and convincing evidence that a longer duration is necessary to protect their business interests.
  4. Compensation for Laid-Off Employees: If an employee subject to a noncompete clause is terminated due to a layoff, the employer must pay the employee’s base salary for the duration of the noncompete period, minus any compensation the employee earns from new employment.
  5. Disclosure Requirements: Employers must disclose the terms of the noncompete clause to prospective employees no later than the time of the acceptance of the offer of employment. For existing employees, the noncompete clause must be supported by independent consideration.

Differences Between Washington State Law and the FTC Rule

  • Scope: While Washington law imposes restrictions on noncompete clauses, it does not ban them outright. The FTC rule implements a nationwide ban with limited exceptions, making it more restrictive in general.
  • Income Threshold: Washington’s law specifies income thresholds below which noncompete clauses are unenforceable. The FTC rule does not differentiate based on income, applying broadly to all employees.  Note that there is an income threshold component applicable to the exemptions for executives in the FTC rule.
  • Retroactivity: The FTC rule requires the rescission of existing noncompete clauses, while Washington law applies primarily to agreements entered into after the law’s effective date.
  • Duration: Washington law presumes noncompete clauses longer than 18 months are unreasonable, whereas the FTC rule bans such clauses entirely, except in specific situations such as the sale of a business.


The FTC’s final rule banning noncompete clauses marks a significant change in employment law. Proponents argue that it fosters a more competitive and dynamic labor market. Opponents argue that it will have significant negative impacts on businesses. Employers and employees alike must prepare for the rule’s implementation, ensuring that all employment agreements align with the new legal landscape. For specific guidance and to navigate the complexities of this new rule, consulting with a legal professional is highly recommended.

We hope this article has been informative and helpful. If you would like to speak with one of our knowledgeable and experienced business or employment law attorneys, please contact us at 206-624-6271 or via email at info@reedlongyearlaw.com.


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