Employers institute non-compete agreements for a variety of reasons, mainly to prohibit employees with critical information on the company to take clients or ideas to competitors. Agreements can be narrow in prohibiting only direct pilfering of clients, research, and employees or extremely broad in prohibiting employees from working in the same field for a direct competitor anywhere in the US.
If you refused to sign the agreement and were later terminated, you could have a case for wrongful termination.
How Do I Know if I Have a Case?
While Florida is an at-will state, meaning an employee can be fired at any time with little to no cause, employees cannot be fired for whistleblowing or turning in a company for violating a public policy. An overly broad non-compete is considered a violation of public policy, thus an employee who is unwilling to sign it is not violating company policy, and is protected by state public policy. The employee cannot be terminated as an act of retaliation.
The non-compete agreement must not restrict trade/competition or the rights of the employee to earn a living, but merely serve as a safeguard for proprietary information of the company. An employment rights’ attorney can help you understand the difference with a quick review of the non-compete agreement.
Sometimes employers shy away from firing employees for refusing to sign a noncompete or other employee contract and instead create a hostile work environment in the hopes that person will leave on their own. Adverse employment actions may also be experienced by the employee, including but not limited to, being passed over for promotions, being reassigned to a less desirable department or one that doesn’t earn commission, and/or being assigned less lucrative or lower profile projects.
Non-compete Agreements May Be Considered Null and Void if…
There are several ways an employee contract of this sort can be negated. As mentioned above, if it is overly broad and unfairly hinders an employee’s ability to find work in his/her field, it can be contested. The employer must have a legitimate business interest in having the employee sign the agreement. That means that low-level clerical staff, who do not participate in major decisions for the company, are not subject to agreements. As another example, an accounting software company cannot keep a salesperson from selling other forms of software, not related to their product or industry.
If a company is requiring you sign an agreement to protect their client list, that list cannot be available to the public, such as a chamber of commerce directory.
Also, if part of the contract included a stipulation on unpaid wages or commission and those amounts were not paid out, the employee is relieved of all obligations under the contract.
Agreements cannot be for an inordinate, or punishing, period of time. Two years is standard and some courts have allowed three, but anything longer than that is considered unreasonable.
If you feel you’ve been wrongfully terminated, or have questions regarding your non-compete agreement or employment rights, contact Wenzel, Fenton, Cabassa P.A. today to schedule your free consultation.