Discovering that your employer is holding you to a non-compete agreement can be hugely disconcerting. You used your expertise to help the company, but now, it seems like you’re prevented from applying your skills elsewhere. Going back to your employment contract, you see it in black and white. When you took the job, you may have skimmed over it, or maybe you saw it and decided it wasn’t going to be a problem. Whatever the case may be, you’re stuck in an awkward position, and you may be asking yourself whether your non-compete agreement is fair, or even legal. New York employment attorneys say there’s a chance that your non-compete agreement is unenforceable – but you should check first.
When is a Non-Compete Agreement Legal?
When considering the validity of a non-compete agreement, courts will first consider whether your move to another company where you do similar work will make it difficult for your employer to protect its interests. For example, if you were working with your former employer’s customers and then jumped ship, taking them over to the competition, that’s hardly fair on your employer. Or, perhaps you were working with trade secrets involving the design and launch of a new product. Your move shows a conflict of interest, and it’s natural for your previous company to invoke the non-compete agreement.
“Unfair hardship” for the employee must also be considered. If your work is so specialized that finding a job in a company that doesn’t compete with your previous one means that you have to remain unemployed, that could be something of a tall order on the part of your former employer.
Over and above these considerations, the time for which the agreement is enforced, and the geographical area it covers must be within reason. And, of course, there should be no harm to the general public that might flow from the agreement being enforced.
Non-Compete Agreements Have Been Overturned in the Past
In the past, New York’s courts have overturned several unreasonable non-compete agreements or substantially altered clauses thought to be unfair. For example, a company employing office cleaners can’t expect its staff to stop cleaning offices if they no longer work for a particular company. Doing so would be manifestly unfair. After all, if one cleaner doesn’t take the job, another will. If this were you, your move to another cleaning company doesn’t actually have potential to harm your former employer.
However, if you worked for a high fashion brand and then took proprietary knowledge over to a competitor, that would be a clear case of your non-compete agreement being violated, and your former employer would be entitled to sue. Then again, for how long is the information sensitive? A year later, your knowledge may not be a threat to your ex-employer and enforcing the agreement may be hugely unfair to you!
It’s encouraging to know that, even though you signed an unfair agreement, you can still have it overturned or altered, provided a court agrees that the agreement cannot be enforced as it stands. All the same, just assuming that your non-compete is unenforceable could be very unwise.
See an Attorney Specializing in Employment Law
If you have reason to believe that your non-compete agreement shouldn’t be enforced, you should definitely get legal advice before gleefully shredding it and casting the scraps to the four winds. If it’s clearly out of line, a lawyer’s letter could be all it takes to persuade your former employer that going after you just isn’t worth it. And knowing you’re in the right will definitely give you the confidence to be unfazed if they decide to test it out in court. If your livelihood depends on getting out of a non-compete agreement, get legal help!