Illinois Legislation Narrowing Restrictive Covenants Takes Effect January 1, 2022

The Illinois Freedom to Work Act – Anticipated Amendments | Levenfeld  Pearlstein, LLC

Levin Ginsburg previously updated our clients on the proposed changes to Illinois non-compete and non-solicitation law (See March 30, 2021 blog here). That legislation passed on May 31, 2021, was signed into law August 13, 2021, and takes effect January 1, 2022. The new law is not retroactive, so it will not impact any agreement entered into before the new year.

Employers must understand this new law and how it will impact their restrictive covenant agreements with employees. The key requirements are as follows:

  1. Employers may not enter into non-compete agreements with any employee earning $75,000 or less per year. This salary threshold is scheduled to increase by $5,000 every 5 years through 2037.
  2. Employers may not enter into non-solicitation agreements with any employee earning $45,000 or less per year. This salary threshold is scheduled to increase by $2,500 every 5 years through 2037.
  3. Every restrictive covenant must include a notice for the employee to consult with counsel, which must be given to an employee 14-days before the restrictive covenant is executed.
  4. The new law codifies legal precedent that requires an employee to work at least 2 years before continued employment would be considered sufficient consideration for the agreement. As a result, employers will be required to provide some professional or financial benefit in exchange for signing any agreement in order for the agreement to be deemed enforceable at the time of execution.
  5. A restrictive covenant will be unenforceable if the employee was terminated or furloughed due to the COVID-19 pandemic or under similar circumstances (yet to be defined).
  6. The law does not allow a court to entirely rewrite a restrictive covenant, but gives the court broad discretion to modify or delete provisions of a covenant rather than hold the entire covenant unenforceable.
  7. Finally, the new law will require employers to pay an employee’s attorneys’ fees if the restrictive covenant is deemed unenforceable.

These changes will have a significant impact on an employer’s decision to require its employees to sign non-compete and non-solicitation agreements. Employers should begin working with their employment counsel now — well before the new law’s effective date of January 1, 2022 — to ensure their agreements are enforceable and avoid the risk of litigation and liability for an employee’s attorneys’ fees.

For assistance in drafting enforceable restrictive covenants and protecting your business, reach out to Walker R. Lawrence (wlawrence@lgattorneys.com), a partner in Levin Ginsburg’s employment law practice, or Joseph A. LaPlaca (jlaplaca@lgattorneys.com), an associate attorney at Levin Ginsburg.

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