This past semester, Social Justice Lawyering Clinic students Jeff Becker (3L), Hwui Lee (3L), and Geoff LeGrand (2L) teamed up with the Fair Labor Section of the Office of the Attorney General of Pennsylvania to investigate the problem of non-competes faced by low-wage workers in Pennsylvania. A non-compete is an agreement between an employer and an employee that prohibits the employee from working for a competing employer after leaving a job. Non-competes can sometimes be lawful (e.g., to protect trade secrets). Employers, however, unlawfully use non-competes with low-wage workers to restrain their mobility.
The students’ research found that non-competes are a problem among low-wage workers in Pennsylvania. Limiting employee mobility means that non-competes help keep employee wages low by decreasing employee bargaining power. Yet the problem remains in the shadows because low-wage workers may not understand the terms and conditions of their non-competes or know that such agreements can be unlawful. The students’ analysis discusses what next steps could be taken to further investigate the extent of the problem in Pennsylvania. It also offers solutions to halt this practice, including community education, proposed legislation, and avenues for filing lawsuits against violators.