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Non-Compete Law in Washington State

Emery | Reddy: Non-Compete Act FAQ

If you signed a non-compete after January 1, 2020, you may be entitled to compensation. Call Emery | Reddy, PLLC today to speak to an experienced Intake Specialist learn more about how we our Non-Compete Lawyers may be able to help you with your claim.

If you signed an illegal non-compete you may be entitled to $5,000. 

Fill out, download, and submit our Non-Compete Violation Intake Form today! 

In the spring of 2019, state legislators overhauled the Washington state non-compete law, which up until then gave employers the power to restrict when and where their former employees could work.

The revamped Non-Compete Act, which went into effect on January 1, 2020, outlaws unfair non-compete agreements that target lower-wage workers by giving them a variety of new protections designed to unlock their economic potential.

It’s a major break from existing laws that have long allowed employers to prevent their workers from leaving to work for a competitor or launching a competing business. Despite these changes, some employers continue to enforce non-compete contracts that greatly limit the employment opportunities of their workforce.

In April of 2024, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced a new rule banning non-competes nation-wide that will generate over 8,500 new businesses each year, raise worker wages, lower health care costs, and boost innovation.

Read the following Q&A about non-compete agreements in general and Washington state’s 2020 non-compete statute specifically to find out if you may have a case against your current or former employer:

Two people reviewing a contract together.

What Is a Non-Compete Agreement?

A non-compete agreement is a contract that allows employers to prevent employees who sign the agreement from getting a similar job with a company that competes with their current employer. In other words, employees are restricted from using the job skills they have acquired to seek employment in the same market. The agreements are particularly restrictive to lower-wage workers who don’t have the luxury to move to a new market or acquire new skills with each job change.

What Does Washington State’s Non-Compete Law Entail?

Income thresholds: One of the central goals of the new law was to prevent employers from using non-compete agreements on lower-level workers. The law nullified non-competes for W-2 employees who earned less than $100,000 per year and independent contractors who made under $250,000 a year in 2020. In 2021, the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) increased the earnings thresholds to $101,390.00 for employees and $253,475.00 for contractors.

Time limits: The new law limits the duration of non-compete agreements to 18 months after the date an employee leaves a company unless the employer can prove a substantial business need for it to be longer. Previously, it was not uncommon for non-compete contracts to prohibit hourly workers from leaving one company and joining a competitor for at least two years.

Fair notice: Employers must spell out the terms of a non-compete in writing to any prospective worker before they take the job. Up to this point, companies have typically provided agreements for an employee to sign on their first day of work after the worker has accepted a job offer.

Layoff insurance: If an employer wants to enforce a non-compete agreement against a laid-off employee, the business will now have to pay the worker their base salary as long as the agreement is in force, minus all compensation the employee earns from subsequent employment during the same period. Known as garden leave, the measure provides workers a form of insurance amid layoffs.

Freedom to moonlight: The new law also affects so-called moonlighting policies, allowing any employee who makes less than twice the minimum wage to hold other jobs, unless the extra work would sap all of their energy or pose a danger to themselves or the public.

No-poach no more: Franchise operators across Washington state — from Allstate Insurance Company to Jimmy John’s — can no longer restrict franchisees from hiring away or poaching employees from each other.

Employer penalties: Businesses that violate the new law are required to pay the employee a penalty of $5,000 or damages exceeding that amount, plus attorney fees and related costs.

No loopholes: Employees are protected from out-of-state employers seeking to bypass the new non-compete rules by voiding any agreement that requires a Washington state employee or contractor to settle the agreement outside Washington state or not subject to the law.

Are Any Washington State Non-Competes Still Enforceable?

Yes, but only for an employee or independent contractor whose annual income exceeds the current year’s earnings thresholds of $101,390 and $253,475, respectively. As a result, most highly paid tech workers at companies like Amazon and Microsoft are not protected by the new law. That’s because non-compete agreements make more sense when a departing employee or contractor might join a competing company in exchange for unique trade secrets or other important proprietary information. Some lawmakers said Amazon lobbyists played a role in reducing the law’s originally envisioned salary threshold from $180,000 to $100,000.

Is Washington State’s Non-Compete Law Retroactive?

Yes, but there are a few caveats. While the law invalidates all non-compete agreements signed before January 1, 2020, aggrieved workers will not be able to sue their employer and collect the $5,000 penalty or damages for a pre-2020 non-compete unless the employer is actively enforcing the agreement. If an employer has its workers or contractors sign a non-compete after January 1, 2020, that violates the new law, you can sue and collect financial compensation regardless of whether it’s being enforced.

If you signed a non-compete after January 1, 2020, or have a non-compete agreement that needs to be revoked, revised, or reviewed by a professional, call Emery | Reddy today to speak with an experienced Intake Specialist for a Free Case Review and to learn more about how we may be able to help you with your claim.

Do I Need to Hire a Non-Compete Lawyer?

If you have tried to work things out with your employer and nothing has been done, then it’s time to consult with an experienced Seattle Non-compete Agreement attorney. Employment Law is complicated and can be overwhelming for anyone not familiar with it. Trying to hold a company accountable for bad business practices requires a skilled attorney to navigate the different laws and tactics an employer may use.

Emery | Reddy has decades of experience in Employment Law and an unmatched record of helping Washington state workers get the justice they deserve in labor violations. Call for a Free Case Review to speak to an experienced Intake Specialist and learn more about your rights.

Want More Information?

As a Washington state employee, you are entitled to several protections and benefits under state and federal laws.

A document review is a comprehensive consultation and analysis of your document’s legal language, context, and impact on your worker’s rights as an employee of Washington state.

Employment Law violations are all too common and can leave you feeling ashamed, confused, angry, anxious, and afraid. Find out the answers to your Employment Law questions today.

We fight for you

Meet the Team

The Non-Compete Lawyers at Emery | Reddy, PLLC are passionate about helping workers with Employment Law issues and L&I claims. We Help Workers®. It’s our motto and what drives us every day.

We know how companies think, and we understand the tactics they use. Our Employment Law Attorneys use that knowledge coupled with over three decades of experience to help our clients get access to the benefits to which they are legally entitled and hold employers accountable when they break the law.

If you’re struggling with an employment issueinjury, or L&I claim, call us for a Free Case Review with an experienced Intake Specialist to learn more about how Emery | Reddy may be able help you today.

“Very helpful. Stayed in contact and gave frequent updates. Amazing team to have on your side.”

— Jon M.

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