Jump to Section
Need help with a Noncompete Agreement?
What Is a Noncompete Agreement?
A noncompete agreement — also known as a noncompete covenant, a covenant not to compete, restrictive covenant, or noncompete clause — is a legal contract between employees and an employer that prevents employees from entering into competing business ventures if they terminate their employment. Businesses may ask new employees to sign this type of agreement to ensure that they don't take the knowledge, skills, and relationships that they gain on the job and use them to set up business as a direct competitor. Employees gain distinct knowledge of their industries, which could make them formidable competitors, as they're aware of the following:
- Pricing strategies
- Product formulas
- Client information
- Business methods
- Pending products
- Research and development information
- Marketing strategies and plans
While a noncompete agreement offers advantages for the business, it may not be as appealing to an employee. A company doesn't necessarily want to lose the valuable investment made into the training, education, and development of an employee. However, these individuals must still retain the basic right to seek other employment opportunities and pursue professional advancement.
Where Are Noncompete Agreements Allowed?
Noncompete agreements are not allowed in all states. This type of contract is unenforceable in the following states:
- North Dakota
Employers in these states may still ask employees to sign this type of contract in the hopes that the individuals are unaware of their rights and will believe that they cannot legally compete with the business. In California, an employer who requires their employees to sign a noncompete agreement can be sued.
Other states may allow noncompete agreements but confine them to particular industries or circumstances. Do some research on your local laws and understand what's applicable in your state.
What's Included in a Noncompete Agreement?
A noncompete agreement has a few basic parts that include the following:
- The date the agreement becomes effective : This date is typically the first date of employment for a new hire. However, some noncompete agreements are executed later in the employee's term. This contract may become necessary before an employee earns a promotion or comes into contact with sensitive business information.
- The reason for the agreement : The employer must specify the scope of the noncompete agreement and the purpose for this contract. A noncompete agreement makes more sense for a high-level employee who will work with sensitive company information than for an hourly worker with minimal responsibilities.
- The duration of the agreement : Noncompete agreements must be reasonable. These agreements are typically limited to a year or two after employees terminate their employment with the company.
- Compensation for complying with the terms : For a new hire, the job itself is usually considered adequate compensation for agreeing to the terms of the noncompete agreement. However, if you're asked to sign a noncompete agreement for a job you're already working in, you may want to ask for a promotion, raise, or other benefits in exchange for your signature on the contract. Some states require a payment of consideration in exchange for signing a noncompete agreement. Courts are more likely to uphold the agreement if the employee received some type of compensation.
The noncompete agreement should also include any relevant specifications regarding the type of competition prohibited. For example, the employee may not be allowed to work for a competitor within a particular region or industry. Jobs that fall outside of the geographical area or specialized industry, however, may be acceptable. The employer may also specify particular companies for which an employee cannot work.
Determining Whether a Noncompete Agreement Is Reasonable
For a court to uphold a noncompete agreement , it must deem the contract reasonable. It is not reasonable for an employee to enforce restrictions so confining that an individual cannot find gainful employment outside the current job. People have the right to earn a living, and the noncompete agreement cannot take this right away from them.
When a court is evaluating a noncompete agreement to determine whether it's reasonable and enforceable, it will consider whether:
- The employer has a legitimate need to protect his or her business interests
- The geographical scope is reasonable in size
- Employees can find other employment opportunities that will not force them to violate the contract
- The term of the noncompete agreement is appropriately limited
- The agreement is unreasonably broad regarding the type of work prohibited
These factors are considered both individually and in conjunction with one another. A long-term agreement is more likely to be enforceable if it's paired with a small geographical scope. Likewise, a noncompete agreement that covers a broad range of companies has a better chance of standing up in court if it applies only for a month.
An employer cannot typically enforce a noncompete agreement executed simply to keep its employees from leaving the business. The company must prove that it has a legitimate reason to be concerned about employees taking jobs elsewhere. For example, if employees have knowledge about a secret recipe for a major product or have close relationships with and sensitive details about a business's top clients, they could present a notable risk to the company if they took the information elsewhere.
Noncompete Agreements and the Sale of a Business
If a business is sold to new owners, noncompete agreements may come into play. The entity that acquires a business is often wise about having employees retained within the business sign a noncompete agreement. Lacking this form of protection, the previous owners of the business may poach employees and set up direct competition.
If employees were previously subject to a noncompete agreement, a purchaser would want to investigate these contracts when acquiring the company. The new noncompete agreement must include an assignment provision that allows the new business owner to maintain the contract under new management. If such a provision is not in place, the previous noncompete agreement may become void.
How Are Noncompete Agreements Enforced?
If you want to be released from a noncompete agreement, you should speak with your employer and get a signed document that releases you from the contract. Lacking this document, you are subject to the enforcement of this contract.
Your previous employer may request an injunction or restraining order preventing you from taking any type of employment that falls within the limits of the noncompete agreement. Courts often expedite these cases to protect the employer from potential damage. You may have only days or weeks to prepare your case with an employment lawyer if a hearing is scheduled.
A court may begin by issuing a temporary order that prevents you from taking a particular job. Likewise, the court might deem that your activities are temporarily permitted, but continue to investigate the case. The court may choose to grant an injunction, a legal order that will stop you from working in violation of the noncompete agreement. This injunction can restrict your activities for any period of time set forth by the court.
A noncompete agreement is a beneficial contract for employers in particular situations where an employee could do significant harm to a business by taking knowledge to a competitor. If you're asked to sign a noncompete agreement, review the document carefully to make sure it's valid within your state and does not prohibit you from taking reasonable actions to further your career.
Meet some of our Noncompete Agreement Lawyers
David H. Charlip, the principal of Charlip Law Group, LC, is one of only 101 Board Certified Civil Trial Lawyers in Miami-Dade, with over 38 years of litigation experience. Mr. Charlip is also one of only 136 Florida Civil Law Notaries. He has managed and litigated cases across the country. Mr. Charlip has advised businesses, drafted business formation and purchase and sale documents and litigated business disputes for over 30 years and is very familiar with all aspects of contractual relations.
With over 16 years of experience in the area of estate planning, trademarks, copyrights and contracts, I am currently licensed in Florida and NJ. My expertise includes: counseling clients on intellectual property availability, use and registration; oversee all procedural details of registration and responses with the USPTO/US Copyright Office; negotiate, draft and review corporate contracts and licensing; counsel clients on personal protection, planning and drafting comprehensive estate plans.
Melissa Taylor, the President and founding partner of Maurer Taylor Law, specializes in business contract review and drafting and is a second-generation attorney with private firm, in-house counsel, governmental, entrepreneurial, and solo practitioner experience. Melissa has a strong legal background, a dedication to customer service, is friendly, warm and communicative, and is particularly skilled at explaining complex legal matters in a way that's easy to understand. Melissa personally handles all client matters from start to finish to ensure client satisfaction.
Lawrence A. “Larry” Saichek is an AV rated attorney and a CPA focusing on business and real estate transactions, corporate law and alternative dispute resolution. With a background including five years of public accounting and six years as “in house” counsel to a national real estate investment company, Larry brings a unique perspective to his clients – as attorney, accountant and businessman. Many clients think of Larry as their outside “in house” counsel and a valued member of their team. Larry is also a Florida Supreme Court Certified Mediator and a qualified arbitrator with over 25 years of ADR experience.
Entertainment Attorney with 30+ years of experience, representing all aspects of the TV, Film, Music and Publishing Industries
Aaron focuses his practice on startups and emerging growth companies, providing general counsel services for companies from formation through exit. Aaron frequently advises clients in connection with routine and unique legal, business, and strategic decisions, including corporate, business and technology transactions, angel and venture financings, mergers and acquisitions, protection of intellectual property, and information privacy and data security.
I enjoy helping businesses of all sizes succeed, from start-ups to existing small and medium sized businesses. I regularly advise corporate clients on a variety of legal issues including formation, day to day governance, reviewing and drafting business contracts and other agreements, business acquisitions and sales, as well as commercial and residential real estate issues, including sales, purchases and leases. As an attorney licensed in both Michigan and Florida, I also advise clients on real estate issues affecting businesses and individuals owning real property in either state, whether commercial, residential or vacation/investment property. I also regularly assist nonprofit organizations in obtaining and maintaining tax exempt status, and provide general legal counsel on all matters affecting public charities, private foundations and other nonprofit organizations.