When you first started working for your employer, you gladly agreed to sign a non-compete agreement: You coveted the job and reasoned that you probably won’t leave any time soon or that non-compete agreements are largely unenforceable anyway. Now that time has passed and you’re eager to move on to greener pastures, you’ve witnessed companies’ attempts at enforcing their non-compete agreements—and it ain’t pretty.
So, are you permanently stuck? Do you need to get a new job? The good news is that, depending on your situation, there may be various ways to beat your agreement with the assistance of an experienced and knowledgeable employment law attorney.
What If I Just Ignore the Agreement?
First, if you just ignore the agreement, you may sour relations with your former employer. You don’t want to do this—the world is too small. Depending on the nature of your industry, you may need to be on amicable terms. You may need something from your former colleagues one day such as a positive reference. In the future, your company could even become a potential client. Your professional network is probably one of your most important assets.
More severely, the employer could sue you. If you lose the suit, your former employer could end up being awarded monetary damages, attorney’s fees, and court costs. The company could potentially obtain a court injunction requiring you to stop competing immediately. In that situation, the injunction could prevent you from competing for a longer amount of time than your original agreement with the employer. And the worst time to discover that your employer is serious about your non-compete clause is after you have spent time and resources starting a business or starting another job.
How Do I Beat a Non-Compete?
Courts typically look unfavorably at non-compete agreements since they limit a person’s capacity to make a living. Courts have been known to nullify or rewrite inappropriate non-compete agreements. As a result, a non-compete agreement may be more difficult to contest than a typical contract. Here are some possible arguments:
The Non-Compete Agreement Term Is Excessive or Covers Overly Broad Territory
This argument works best if you can demonstrate that the terms of your agreement are unique in your field. For example, if an employee can demonstrate that most companies in their industry utilize non-compete agreements or a few months rather than a year, their chances of successfully contesting it increase.
The Agreement’s Purpose Is Keep You from Working For Another Employer
Consider why your employer asked you to sign an agreement to present your case more effectively. If it was simply a regular procedure for all employees, you may be able to have it altered or canceled entirely. However, if your company is concerned about preserving a trade secret—say, its recipe or a carefully fostered and nurtured client list—the company’s position is stronger. Another legal justification for implementing a non-compete agreement against you is to protect a considerable investment in your training or education. Let’s be real here: if your employer paid for your 4-year degree and you leave as soon as you’re finished, a court will be less sympathetic.
You Weren’t Offered Enough in Exchange for Signing the Contract
Courts sometimes refuse to enforce a non-compete agreement unless you were offered something substantial in exchange. The likelihood of success with this argument greatly depends on the court you’re before.
Employment Lawyers are Ready to Help
When it comes to non-compete agreements, the devil is in the details. It is especially important to have an experienced employment law attorney draft or regularly review existing agreements in today’s dynamic regulatory landscape to ensure enforceability and avoid common pitfalls. If you’re an employer looking to arm yourself against unfair competition and need an experienced employment law attorney in Memphis, TN; St. Louis, MO, or surrounding counties, contact The Crone Law Firm by filling out the form at the bottom of this page or by calling (901) 737-7740.