Seyfarth Synopsis: Thinking of converting your independent contractors to employees? Not so fast. There are many implications to consider. Below we touch on one of them.

In the wake of the judicial invention of a California version of the “ABC test” to determine proper worker classifications, many companies in the gig economy are grappling with

We’re pleased to cross-post a piece by our sister blog, Trading Secrets, regarding California’s peculiar take on employee non-solicitation provisions.

On November 1, 2018, the California Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District affirmed a trial court’s ruling in AMN Healthcare, Inc. v. Aya Healthcare Services, Inc. et al., No. D071924, 2018 WL 5669154

Seyfarth Synopsis: Limitation on an actor’s ability to work in certain films struck down as an unlawful restraint of trade. 

California, mecca of the film and media production industries in the U.S., is notorious for outlawing non-compete agreements. It is one of the few states that generally prohibits the unlawful restraint of one’s profession

(Illustration) No HiringBy Carrie Price and Robert Milligan

In Golden v. California Emergency Physicians Medical Group, a divided Ninth Circuit panel held that a “no re-hire” provision in a settlement agreement could, under certain circumstances, constitute an unlawful restraint of trade under California law.

The Facts

Dr. Golden, a physician, agreed to settle his discrimination claim against his employer, California Emergency Physicians Medical Group (“CEP”). Their oral settlement agreement, later reduced to writing, had Dr. Golden “waive any and all rights to employment with CEP or at any facility that CEP may own or with which it may contract in the future.” The district court enforced the parties’ settlement over Dr. Golden’s objection that this “no-rehire” clause violated Section 16600 of California’s Business & Professions Code, which provides that a contract is void if it restrains anyone from engaging in a lawful profession.

The Appellate Court Decision

On appeal, Dr. Golden argued that the “no re-hire” clause was unlawful and that, because it constituted a material term of the settlement, the entire agreement was void, permitting Dr. Golden to pursue his discrimination lawsuit.

The Ninth Circuit panel determined that Dr. Golden might prevail on this argument, and remanded the case to the district court for further proceedings. The panel first found that the validity of the “no re-hire” clause was ripe for determination. The dispute was ripe not because CEP was currently seeking to enforce the “no re-hire” clause against Dr. Golden (it was not), but because Dr. Golden sought to have the settlement agreement voided after his former attorney attempted to enforce the agreement in order to collect attorney’s fees. The panel reasoned that “when a litigant resists his adversary’s attempt to enforce a contract against him, the dispute has already completely materialized.”

The Ninth Circuit panel next addressed the validity of the “no re-hire” clause. Historically, this type of clause, which commonly appears in settlement agreements, has not been viewed as a non-compete clause, in that a “no re-hire” clause does not keep a former employee from working for a competitor—just for the former employer. The Golden court, however, took a wider view of Section 16600, reasoning that it applies to any contractual provision that “ ‘restrain[s anyone] from engaging in a lawful profession, trade, or business of any kind’ … extend[ing] to any ‘restraint of a substantial character,’ no matter its form or scope.”

To support this broad interpretation, the Ninth Circuit panel majority cited Section 16600’s language, statutory context, and case law to reason that Section 16600 applies to any contractual limitation that restricts the ability to practice a vocation. See, e.g., Edwards v. Arthur Andersen LLP, 189 P.3d 285 (Cal. 2008); City of Oakland v. Hassey, 163 Cal. App. 4th 1447 (2008). The panel majority noted that both Edwards and Hassey focused on the text of the law—whether the contested clause restrained someone from engaging in a trade, business, or profession—and not specifically whether the clause prevented competition with the former employer. The panel majority concluded that a clause creating a restraint of “substantial character” that could limit an employee’s opportunity to engage in a chosen line of work would fall under Section 16600’s “considerable breadth.”

Significantly, the Ninth Circuit panel did not rule that the clause was actually void. Instead, the panel majority concluded that the district court would need to do more fact-finding to see if the clause actually created a restraint of a “substantial character” on Golden’s pursuit of his profession.

It also is significant that the Ninth Circuit panel majority—mindful that the California Supreme Court itself has not ruled on whether Section 16600 extends beyond traditional non-compete clauses in employment agreements—was merely predicting how it thought the California Supreme Court would rule.

A sharp dissent by Judge Kozinski expressed skepticism that the California Supreme Court would reach the same result as the panel majority, and argued that the settlement agreement should be enforced because the provision put no limits on Dr. Golden’s current ability to pursue his profession.

What Is the Golden Rule for California Employers?
Continue Reading

By Robert Milligan and Joshua Salinas

As companies face increasing competitive and financial pressures, management is understandably consumed with running the day-to-day operations of the business and working to achieve business objectives and maximize the bottom line. As a result, it is not uncommon for companies to find themselves in situations where important assets are overlooked or taken for granted. Yet, those same assets can be lost or compromised in a moment through what is often benign neglect.

Authoritative sources estimate that companies lose hundreds of millions of dollars (if not billions) as a result of trade secret theft. At the same time, companies sometimes find themselves, through poor controls, exposed when they inadvertently obtain others’ trade secrets.

In the rush to deliver results, some companies take shortcuts in the hiring and departure process that often leave them exposed to claims for trade secret misappropriation, aiding and abetting breaches of loyalty, and intentional interference with contractual relationships or business expectancies with customers or employees.

California’s strong public policy against certain employee noncompetition agreements and post-termination restrictions on employee mobility means strong trade secret protections are essential for California employers to protect against the unlawful use or disclosure of valuable company information and related competitive issues when key employees join competitors. Accordingly, while non-competes may be void in California, prudent companies conducting business in California will ensure that their trade secret protection practices are state of the art, including their onboarding and offboarding process.

In this second video of a two-part series (see part one here), we illustrate some best practices when interviewing a competitor’s employees, as well as handling your own employees’ departures, regarding the protection of trade secrets and other confidential information in California.  During the video, a prospective candidate offers to share during his employment interview his current employer’s trade secrets regarding sensitive business and customer information for the Southern California market. You will also see how the employer handles the exit interview of that employee.

When watching the video below, consider the following:

  • How does the interviewer avoid the applicant’s disclosure of  trade secret and other confidential information and focus the candidate on general skills and knowledge?
  • How does the prospective employer condition its offer of employment?
  • How does the current employer try to protect its trade secret and other confidential information with departing employees?
  • What type of policies and procedures do the current employer and prospective employer put in place to better protect themselves?

Click below to discover some of the best practices illustrated in the video and in general to protect trade secrets.


Continue Reading

By Robert Milligan and Joshua Salinas

California is a unique jurisdiction because of its public policy against certain employee noncompetition agreements and post-termination restrictions on employee mobility. This general prohibition against noncompetes with employees  leaves trade secret laws as the primary mechanism for employers with California based employees to protect against the unlawful use or disclosure of valuable company information and related competitive issues when key employees join competitors.

Yet many employers fall short in protecting trade secrets through the inadequate handling of employee departures.  Moreover, many companies fail to understand the potential liability that may arise with the unlawful acquisition of a competitor’s trade secrets when interviewing and onboarding a competitor’s employees.

In this first video of a two-part series, we illustrate some bad practices when interviewing a competitor’s employees, as well as handling your own employees’ departures, regarding the protection of trade secrets and other confidential information.  During the video, a prospective candidate offers to share during his employment interview his current employer’s trade secrets regarding sensitive business and customer information for the Southern California market.

When watching the video below, consider the following:

  • What concerns do you have about anything the interviewer did?
  • What concerns about what the prospective employee did?
  • How about the current employer?
  • What type of policies and procedures could both the current employer and prospective employer put in place to better protect themselves?

Click below to discover some of the bad practices illustrated in the video.
Continue Reading

By Robert Milligan, Jessica Mendelson, and Joshua Salinas

Prudent employers are often looking for areas in their business where valuable company data may not be adequately protected.

Enter the growing prevalence of third party online data storage for professional and personal use in the workplace, coupled with the increasing accessibility provided by employers to access company data remotely. 

While the benefits of cloud computing are well documented, the growth of third party online data storage has facilitated the ability for rogue employees to take valuable trade secrets and other proprietary company files, in the matter of minutes,  if not seconds.

There are have been several high profile cases in California recently addressing the alleged theft of company data by employees through the use of third party online data storage.

To address this technology and threat to companies, employers must be vigilant to ensure that they have robust agreements and policies with their employees as well as other sound trade secret protections, including employee training and IT security, to protect their valuable trade secrets and company data before they are compromised and stolen. This is particularly important in California because California law can provide limited protection for employers—compared to other jurisdictions—because of its general prohibition of non-compete agreements and growing trade secret preemption or supersession doctrine.

As we have previously discussed, one of the notorious employment laws separating California from other states is its long-standing and draconian prohibition of employee non-compete agreements. Additionally, some recent California decisions have significantly limited an employer’s ability to pursue certain claims and remedies based upon the theft of mere confidential or proprietary information by rogue employees.  Employers may have limited recourse under California law if the stolen data does not rise to the level of a trade secret at least under a tort theory of recovery.  

Further, a recent article in The Recorder entitled “Trade Secrets Spat Center on Cloud,” observed that the existence of cloud computing services within the workplace makes it “harder for companies to distinguish true data breaches from false alarms.”

Given these challenges, employers should implement policies and agreements to restrict or clarify the use of cloud computing services for storing and sharing company data by employees. Some employers may prefer to simply block all access to such cloud computing services and document the same in their policies and agreements. Also employers should provide education and training regarding the company’s policy regarding employee use of cloud storage services.

Additionally, certain key steps should also be taken to protect against the theft of trade secrets and confidential information by departing employees with this new threat in mind:
Continue Reading