Yet another reason why Megyn Kelly does not need your sympathy

Megyn Kelly is out at NBC after an uproar over her comments in defense of blackface Halloween costumes during an episode of her television show last week. NBC has canceled “Megyn Kelly Today” and Kelly will be negotiating an exit from her contract. Speculation that Kelly would get a full payout for her three-year, $69 million contract drew a bitter response from people on Twitter. “Congrats to Megyn Kelly for getting $69 million for thinking blackface is fine,” one person tweeted.

Kelly’s unfathomable severance package isn’t the only thing separating her from regular working people. She actually may have a say in her noncompete clause. According to The Hollywood Reporter, her legal representation is “attempting to keep her noncompete clause as short as possible. Six months is the standard in the television news industry.”

Nearly one in five U.S. workers are bound by noncompete agreements, which block them from working for a competitor for a set period of time if they leave their current job. That’s nearly 30 million people who have essentially lost their full right to leave their jobs. And it’s not just highly paid workers who are required to sign them—14.3 percent of workers without a four-year college degree and 13.5 percent of workers earning up to $40,000 a year have noncompetes.

Noncompetes are a big problem. If you are a typical worker and you are not in a union, one of the most important points of leverage you have to negotiate for a raise or fight back against abuse is the fact that you can quit and work somewhere else. A noncompete agreement weakens your power: you have to stay with your employer because you can’t seek or accept a better-paying job with a competitor.

Most ordinary people don’t have the capacity to hire a high-priced litigator to protect their interests when it comes to noncompete clauses. Many people don’t even know that they signed a noncompete clause—or understand what it means.

There is no justifiable reason that a sandwich maker should be prohibited from working for a competing establishment for two years after leaving his job at a sandwich shop. But that is exactly what was happening with employees of Jimmy John’s, until the New York attorney general’s office took action. Reporters and factory managers—along with workers at doggy day care and grooming services, summer camps, and warehouses—have also had to sign noncompetes.

The proliferation of noncompetes is bad for America. Noncompetes contribute to stagnating wages and inequality. They represent just one more way the rules governing work in this country are rigged against working people from their first day on the job.

What can we do about this? The White House could call attention to the issue, as the Obama administration did in its waning months. State attorneys general can challenge them. And policymakers can work to restrict or ban them. EPI’s First Day Fairness Agenda calls for banning noncompete clauses, with very limited carveouts (to cover genuine trade secrets). The First Day Fairness Agenda should be required reading for anyone who says they care about lifting wages and ending inequality.

Megyn Kelly will do just fine. But ordinary workers are at risk. The freedom to change jobs is crucial to workers’ advancement. It’s time for us to protect that freedom for those who don’t have $69 million payouts.