Is Your Non-Compete Enforceable?

Business is picking back up and employers are beginning to ramp up hiring. That’s great, of course…and maybe it means you’re starting to get some job offers to lure you away from your current job. Maybe better money, better market, better work schedule…and on and on. One little problem, right? – You signed a non-compete. You may not have paid it much attention when you signed off on your HR packet, but now it’s a big deal. So, your big question, ‘if I leave, what happens?’ You may look at it and think it’s incredible that a company can prevent you from working for another business for two years, but, alas, it can.

In Florida, non-competition agreements are enforceable as long as they are reasonable in terms of duration and geography. While this varies by industry, it does have to be reasonable. A company can’t enforce an agreement that prevents you from working for a company doing similar work anywhere in the world for as long as you both shall live. No, a company can prevent you from working for a competitor for a couple of years within a couple hundred miles, perhaps. Here’s the thing, if you’re wondering whether your agreement is enforceable because you’re considering making a move, go talk to an attorney. A skilled business attorney should be able to take a look at the agreement and give you a good idea of the agreement’s strength. A plus in Florida is that the Court isn’t going to add to an agreement to make it work – if no geographic limit or duration is listed, a Court isn’t going to add the term.

So, to answer the big questions, what happens if you take that new job? Well, once your previous employer gets wind that you’re going with a competitor, they’re likely going to say ‘no, no… we’ve got a non-compete.’ They’ll go to their legal department or hire outside counsel to make demand to you and likely to your new company that you can’t be employed in this new position due to the non-compete. Since the agreement is only with you, it means that if a suit is necessary, it is going to be against you. The previous employer will have counsel serve you with a complaint seeking an injunction to prevent you from working in said new job. You will need to hire a lawyer. If the agreement is enforceable, you’ll lose. If the agreement is unenforceable, you’ll win. Hence, I advise seeking counsel before making a move. This way, when that demand rears its ugly head, you have a lawyer ready to fire back.

As with most legal disputes, there are certain shades of grey between that black and white. Namely, as I mentioned, the “reasonableness” of the agreement may need to be determined by the Court. In the end, look before you leap, so to speak – understand your risks and rewards before you decide to take that new gig. The last thing you want is to end up unemployed and paying your previous employer’s lawyer’s fees.