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What’s Going On With Non-Compete Agreements?


            You may have heard about the Federal Trade Commission’s Final Rule banning non-compete clauses, which issued on April 23, 2024. What does that mean for workers two months later? So far…well, read on.

            What is a non-compete? A non-compete (or noncompete, depending on who is spelling it) is a form of restrictive covenant, which is a way of restricting activity after a transaction or legal relationship has ended. The most basic form of a non-compete prohibits an employee at Company A from going to work for Company B for a period of time after the employee no longer works for Company A.

            Yes, you read that right. Company A wants to control the employee after the employee no longer works for, and is no longer paid by, Company A. Simply put, if a worker is unhappy in the job and wants to move on to a better opportunity, a non-compete stops that from happening. Workers who violate these clauses can face hundreds of thousands of dollars in liquidated damages, injunctive relief, attorneys’ fees, and the total destruction of their careers.

If this seems perverse to you, join the club. As long ago as 2016, the New York State Attorney General reached an agreement with Jimmy John’s, following an investigation into the sandwich company’s practice of distributing two-year non-competes to sandwich makers. The AG put a stop to the practice, observing that these things “…limit mobility and opportunity for vulnerable workers and bully them into staying with the threat of being sued.” The New York State AG’s efforts notwithstanding, non-competes continue to be used to limit worker mobility in a variety of industries.

            Is that even legal? Here’s what happens. Say a worker gets a job at a sandwich shop. On the worker’s first day, there’s something called “orientation” or “onboarding” or “training.” During this process, the worker has to sign a dozen or so documents, such as W-4s, I-9s, acknowledgments, etc. One of those documents might be some kind of restrictive covenant. The employee may not even know they signed it. And the employee does not have a choice in the matter: no signature, no job. So the employee signs so they can hurry up and get to the sandwich-making.

Officially, while most employment documents have been deemed by the courts not to be  binding contracts, historically, non-competes have been held to be enforceable because, so the logic goes, in return for providing the worker the sumptuous privilege of being paid to make sandwiches, the employer is entitled to extract several years of the employee’s life force. According to the traditional legal analysis, it’s a bargain. And unless a statute specifies otherwise, parties can usually bargain away their own rights, which is why it’s a darn good idea to have an attorney review things before you sign them.

            Realistically, the employee has gotten no opportunity to bargain. The employee needs that sandwich-making job to make their car payment and will sign anything to get that paycheck. Sure it’s a contract. It’s also patently unfair.

            What happened?  The FTC, after several months of gathering commentary, concluded that non-competes are…well…non-competitive. The FTC doesn’t like stuff that interferes with competition. Hence the rule. (This paragraph is a very watered down version of the 570-page rule. Check out pages 11-14 for some real-life examples of how destructive a non-compete can really be.)

            Where are we now? First of all, the rule doesn’t become effective until 120 days after it’s published in the Federal Register, which means even if no one hated this rule it wouldn’t go into effect until around September 10.

            Second, employers couldn’t move fast enough to take the FTC to court. An accounting firm beat everyone else with Ryan, LCC v. Federal Trade Commission, pending in the Northern District of Texas. The Chamber of Commerce (which, by the way, couldn’t name any employers who were actually hurt by the rule) filed its own case in the Eastern District of Texas but lost out because Ryan got there first. But the COC is being allowed to join the Ryan case, so that’s nice for employers.

            Where this leaves the rest of us is that, while we don’t have any crystal balls, decisions coming out of Texas courts recently have not been overwhelmingly progressive. On the other hand, even rich people are sometimes annoyed by non-competes. But then again, employers are already figuring out work-arounds…so don’t pop open the workers’ rights champagne just yet. But go ahead and leave it in the fridge door; we might end up having a use for it in a couple months!

            Who knows what will happen between now and September, so if you’re wondering what this means for your particular situation, make sure you speak with a workers’ rights attorney in your jurisdiction. Fingers crossed.

Federal “White Collar” Overtime Exemption is Getting A Raise!


Heads up: the Federal “White Collar” overtime exemption is getting a raise. Specifically, the salary threshold above which an employee no longer qualifies for overtime will go up on July 1, 2024 to $844/week ($43,888 annually). On January 1, 2025, the threshold will rise again to $1,128/week ($58,656 annually). The new rule contemplates automatic increases to the salary threshold every three years.

The salary threshold is one test for determining whether employees are “exempt” from overtime rules (which actually means the employer is exempt from having to pay overtime). To be considered exempt, employees must meet the salary threshold, be paid on a salary basis (which means the amount of pay is predetermined and not subject to deductions if the employee is ready, willing, and able to work), and perform duties consistent with being a bona fide executive, administrative, professional, or outside sales person.

Currently the threshold is at $684/week ($35,568 annually) which cuts out a lot of employees who are making more than minimum wage, but not much more. The July increase won’t have much effect on executives and administrative workers in New York, whose salary threshold is already over $1000/week ($1,124.20 for upstaters, $1,200.00 downstate). But New York professional employees may see a difference.

Expect legal challenges to this rule. And always talk to a workplace rights lawyer in your jurisdiction before making any decisions or claims.

Speaking Up On Behalf Of Your Coworkers


Your employer probably does not welcome your advocating for your colleagues. Whether your advocacy is protected or not depends on what you are discussing, how you say it, and how many other employees it involves.

This is an area of law that flip-flops every few years, so make sure you speak to a reputable workplace attorney!!!

A recent decision by the National Labor Relations Board has expanded the protections for your workplace discussions. It’s complicated, but you may have the right to talk with other employees or the boss about things like workplace safety, your wages, the schedule, or other terms and conditions of employment for the purposes of “mutual aid and protection.” “Mutual aid and protection” is one of those legal phrases that has a special meaning, so you’ll definitely need to speak with a lawyer to know whether a particular comment is protected. Generally speaking, if your comment to coworkers is intended to initiate or prepare for group action, or to bring group complaints to management’s attention, it may be protected.

Discussions that only involve your individual circumstances are not protected.  And not every remark made in a group setting is protected. And even if your remark turns out to be protected, it may take months or years of litigation to ascertain that it was protected – during which time you are probably going to be looking for a job.

That said, Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act gives many private-sector workers a federally-protected right to engage in protected concerted activity for the purposes of mutual aid and protection, and they don’t have to be in a union to exercise that right.

If your boss is on your case for a remark you made about a concern shared by your coworkers, talk to a workers’ rights attorney. It may turn out you have some protection.



New York Warehouse Workers: Know Your Rights!


A line-drawing of a forklift. Text: Warehouse Worker Protections? Yes, New York's got them.

On June 19, Governor Kathy Hochul announced that legislation protecting warehouse workers from unreasonably demanding work quotas is now in effect. New York’s Warehouse Worker Protection Act (WWPA) requires employers to disclose work speed quotas, and protects employees from quotas that don’t include time for rest periods, bathroom breaks, and meals. The WWPA applies to employees at warehouses with more than 100 employees, or employees who work for employers who employ 500 or more employees at multiple warehouses.

Employers are required to provide a written description of quotas when workers are hired, as well as within two business days of a change in quota. It is illegal for employers to retaliate against employees for requesting quota information or filing a complaint. Workers can report violations to the New York State Department of Labor. There are also civil remedies available; individuals should speak with a reputable workplace attorney to determine how to pursue their rights.

If you work in a warehouse and you have questions about the WWPA, it’s a good idea to speak with your union representative or a New York lawyer.

Sticky: About this Blog, Disclaimer

Please note that the information contained in this blog is for informational purposes and is not to be considered legal advice. This blog does not create or imply an attorney-client relationship. Satter Ruhlen Law Firm makes no representation that the information herein reflects the most current state of the law.  This blog is not a substitute for consultation with an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.  If you would like to discuss your particular circumstances with us, please set up a consultation by contacting the Satter Ruhlen Law Firm at 315-471-0405 or through our website ( We look forward to walking you through your workplace rights.

Cannabis in the New York Workplace

Cannabis in the New York workplace? New York State has a law about that. (Picture of a man smoking)

In July 2022, Senator Schumer’s Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act bill was introduced, seeking to decriminalize marijuana federally. There are a variety of reasons the bill may not have the votes to pass, but many states – including New York – have laws that prohibit discrimination against employees who use cannabis… sort of.

So, what are the rules about cannabis in the New York workplace? In New York, employees’ lawful off-duty conduct is technically protected.  And in March 2021, New York Labor Law was amended to specify that lawful off-duty conduct includes recreational use of marijuana.

Does this mean you can smoke up at work with impunity? NOPE. Please don’t do it – you’ll get fired.  (See our previous blog posts here  and here for more information about how marijuana can still get you fired.)  But it does mean that a New York employee who works in a non-safety sensitive position shouldn’t be getting tested for cannabis, and shouldn’t be getting into trouble for off-duty use unless the employee “manifests specific articulable symptoms of cannabis impairment” that interfere with job performance or safety. What are “articulable symptoms of cannabis impairment?” Very good question. Nobody knows. Bottom line, don’t be high at work.

Also, if there are state or federal regulations (for example Department of Transportation rules) that require testing, the employer can still test and take disciplinary action on the basis of a positive test. If you have specific questions about cannabis in the New York workplace, make sure you consult with a New York workplace attorney!

So, the workplace is not going to become a magical mystery tour any time soon.  But what you do after work is starting look a little more like your own business.

New York Law Restricts Employer E-Spying

surveillance camera

New York State recently passed a law requiring employers to give notice to employees if they monitor employees’ telephone, email, and internet activity.


Section 52-c of the New York Civil Rights Act requires employers to provide written notice of e-monitoring individually to new employees.  If the employee doesn’t sign an acknowledgement of the notice, the notice is invalid.  Further, the notice must inform the employee of monitoring of telephone, email, internet, or use of any electronic device (including computer, telephone, wire, radio or fax). Notice must also be posted in a conspicuous spot in the workplace.


The employer does not have to inform employees about computer system maintenance and protection such as spam filters and volume controls.


Realistically speaking, this means an extra form for New York employees to sign during the hiring process.  If a new hire refuses to sign, in all probability the employer could refuse to keep the person on the job.  Additionally, there is no private right of action, meaning employees can’t individually sue employers for violations of this law.  But employees can report employers to the New York State Attorney General, who can impose monetary penalties. Repeat offenders will be assessed increasingly stiff penalties.


The law goes into effect on May 7, 2022.  If you are concerned about how your employer is monitoring you, it’s not a bad idea to call the attorney general or speak with a workers’ rights attorney in your jurisdiction.

Expanded Protection For New York Whistleblowers


Whistleblower law in New York was abysmal.  The only people who seemed to be protected were folks who warned the public that a nuclear power plant was about to blow up. Anything less than a “substantial and specific” public safety threat was not covered; thus, employees who reported their employers for misconduct such as cooking the books did not get job protection, even when the boss went to jail.[1]

Enter the amended NY Labor Law Section 740, which takes effect on January 1, 2022. Here’s what the amendments do:


  • There is no longer a requirement that the reported violation constitute a substantial specific public safety threat – although reporting such a threat is still a protected activity.
  • Employees are protected from retaliation if they report conduct that they reasonably believe constitutes a violation of a law, rule, or regulation. What constitutes a “reasonable belief” remains to be seen, so it’s wise to make sure you have a good understanding of the violation you’re reporting before making the complaint.
  • Employees must make a good faith effort to notify the employer of the violation, giving the employer the chance to fix the problem. But that notification requirement is eased in situations where there is imminent or serious danger to public safety, the employee reasonably believes that the employer would take steps to conceal the activity (such as shredding incriminating evidence), the report would result in physical harm or result in endangerment of a minor, or the employee reasonably believes that the employer is already aware of the violation and will not correct it.
  • The amendments extend the statute of limitations to two years from the date of the violation, and entitle the parties to a jury trial.
  • Particularly bad conduct can result in an award of punitive damages.
  • Employers are required to post a notice of employees’ whistleblower rights in a conspicuous spot in the workplace.


Fair warning:  Employees who bring frivolous claims may be ordered to pay the employer’s attorneys’ fees and costs – which often amount to six figures.  So before you file a big court claim, it’s a good idea to speak to a workers’ rights attorney in your jurisdiction.



[1] Healthcare workers had slightly better protections under NYLL 741.

Four Things To Know About Your Hairstyle At Work

Is a workplace grooming policy cramping your style?  If you work in New York, you may have some protections: 

  • A grooming policy cannot directly target hairstyles traditionally associated with persons of color or have a disparate impact on certain races. For example, a grooming policy that limits hair length or height, thus limiting Afros, could violate the law.  
  • An employer cannot maintain a wholesale ban of particular hairstyles, such as dreadlocks, twists, braids, cornrows, Afros or fades.   
  • An employer cannot require only employees with hairstyles associated with their race to cut or conceal their hair or prevent these employees from serving in customer-facing roles.  
  • An employer cannot require employees to alter the natural state of their hair to conform to company appearance standards, for example, mandating hair straightening with chemicals or heat. 

On July 11, 2019, the definition of race under the New York State Human Rights Law [“NYSHRL”] was amended to include “traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles,” such as braids and dreadlocks. NYSHRL §§292(37) and (38). The amendment broadens the definition of race so that an employer who makes an adverse employment decision, such as denying an individual a job or promotion, based on an individual’s hair texture or style that is associated with their racial identity, may have violated the NYSHRL.  [Note: If you work in New York City, this protection has been in place since February 2019. At that time, the New York City Commission on Human Rights [“NYCCHR”] issued guidance that workplace grooming or appearance policies that ban, limit, or restrict natural hairstyles associated with race, ethnicity and culture violate the City’s anti-discrimination law. As detailed in the NYCCHR guidance, the New York City provision is broader and more detailed than the state-wide amendment.]   

While the amendment acknowledges the inextricable link between hair and race it does not prevent an employer from maintaining a neutral “grooming policy” seeking to establish a workforce with a “professional” appearance. Herein lies the challenge. While a grooming policy appears to be neutral, the impact can reinforce racial stereotypes and perpetuate race discrimination. The objective of the amendment is to protect people from race discrimination hiding behind a neutral grooming policy.  

If you think your employer’s grooming policy violates the amendments, or if you think you have suffered other race-based discrimination at work, consult with a workers’ rights attorney to discuss your situation.   


New York State Minimum Wage Increasing 12/31/21

Money changing hands

Hello, fellow Upstaters!  You probably know by now that New York State private sector minimum wages are going up on December 31, 2021. This is pursuant to amendments to New York State minimum wage orders, which since 2016 have set a goal that the rate, eventually, will reach $15.00/hour for private sector workers statewide. As of December 31, 2021, minimum wage for private sector, non-hospitality or building trade employees in Upstate New York will increase to $13.20/hour.


But be careful before you take this opportunity to go on a shopping spree.  First, you might not be in a sector governed by the minimum wage orders (sorry, public employees).  Second, if you’re in New York City, the rules are different for you.  Third, hello food service workers!  You have to deal with stuff like tip credits, tip pooling, and other complications (hint: your wages are still far below everyone else’s because, allegedly, tips are supposed to make up the rest.)


Luckily, the New York State Department of Labor has created a wage calculator that will help you figure out whether, and how much, you benefit from this new increase. (Go try it out, it’s fun!)  Additionally, there’s a handy flyer that can give you some background information on where the strive for $15 has taken us so far.


As always, if you have questions about your wages, contact a workers’ rights attorney today!

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