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The state Capitol in Olympia, Wash. Photo via Flickr.
The state Capitol in Olympia, Wash. Photo via Flickr.

Legislation is delayed until at least next year on banning non-compete provisions from employment agreements in Washington state.

Rep. Derek Stanford
Rep. Derek Stanford

The Washington House did not act on a bill by Rep. Derek Stanford, D-Bothell, by last Wednesday, which was the deadline for bills to pass the House and go to the Senate.

Stanford said most but not all of the 50 members of the House Democratic Caucus were on board with the current version of his bill, speculating that up to five wanted more work on it. That meant Stanford’s bill would have needed the guaranteed support of enough Republicans to hit the 50-vote mark. But that guarantee had not been promised.

A strong rule of thumb in the House is that no bill goes to a floor vote unless the majority caucus leaders already know 50 out of the 98 House members will vote for it.

“There was very strong support, but not 50 votes,” Stanford said.

Stanford said opposition from the Association of Washington Business and other business interests contributed to this bill stalling in caucus this year. The Washington Technology Industry Association, the Washington State Hospital Association, the Independent Business Association and Washington Food Industry Association also opposed the bill.

His bill would have rendered void “unreasonable” competition agreements. Under the bill, “unreasonable” non-compete agreements cover those for seasonal and temporary employees, laid-off employees, those terminated without just cause, and those involving independent contractors. The bill also would have forbade non-compete requirements that last for more than one year from the end of employment, and for employees who are not executives

Stanford’s bill would have brought Washington state more in line with California law, preventing companies from keeping departing employees from taking similar jobs at competing companies for specified periods of time after they leave.

It’s a hot-button issue in the technology industry. Companies in Washington state, including Microsoft and Amazon, have repeatedly used non-compete clauses in employment agreements to keep former executives and engineers from working for rivals. Amazon has even reportedly used non-compete requirements when hiring seasonal warehouse workers. Non-compete agreements are also major disputed issues for hair salon and manicurist employees, drywall applicators, musicians and fast-food workers.

Rep. Larry Springer, D-Kirkland, said he believes Stanford’s bill needs more work. Sanford plans to re-introduce his own bill in a future session, which will be the third attempt to get it through the Legislature. Springer said he believes Sanford’s bill will eventually pass in 2017, but added that technology sector concerns should be addressed more.

Unresolved concerns include how long non-compete agreements should last, what geographic areas should be covered, plus which specific professions should be covered by non-compete arrangements, Springer said. 

“I think we just ran out of time,” Springer said, noting that a two-month session leaves little time to hash out disputed details.

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