I would not be the first to observe that the Massachusetts legislature sometimes acts in strange and mysterious ways. It has been known to surprise even those of us who think we are paying attention to such things with unexpected employment-related legislation. The very significant amendment in 2004 to the Massachusetts Independent Contractor Law (.pdf) is a good example of this phenomenon: although it has wide-ranging application and has vexed employment lawyers and the business community since its passage, it was attached to a bill focused on the construction industry and was largely unknown to the outside world for weeks after its enactment, until the Attorney General’s office issued an advisory interpreting it.
A recent — but fortunately less momentous — example concerns non-competition agreements. Six weeks ago, on August 23, Governor Patrick signed a new law prohibiting non-competition agreements for social workers in Massachusetts. The text of the law is available here (.pdf). It states that any contract with a social worker licensed under Chapter 112 of Massachusetts General Laws that includes a “restriction of the right of the social worker to practice in any geographic area for any period of time after termination” is void and unenforceable with respect to that restriction. The law does not invalidate or render unenforceable the remainder of a contract or agreement containing such a restriction.
This law adds to a very short list of professions as to which there is a statutory prohibition on post-employment non-competition agreements: physicians, nurses, broadcasters, and now social workers. In addition, non-competes are invalid as to lawyers pursuant to the Rules of Professional Responsibility adopted by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.
I have been digging — to no avail — for some information that might shed light on the source or necessity of this new law. Certainly there has been nothing like the very public debate in the tech and VC community (detailed in this blog) over the past year about the effect of non-competes on the Massachusetts economy. And an Internet search on the subject of Massachusetts-based social workers and non-competes turns up nothing. As far as I know, mine is the very first voice in the electronic universe to mention this new law! (Thanks to my partner, Rob Fisher, for bringing this law to my attention.)