Signing a non-compete agreement with your employer is a fairly common practice. Business owners request that you sign them (or make it a condition of your employment) to protect certain company interests. But what about your legal rights? Understanding the various aspects and legal ramifications of a non-compete agreement are important to any worker — whether you specialize in information technology, sales, international business, or any other industries.
Below are some answers to common questions related to non-compete agreements to assist you in better understanding your legal workplace rights.
Non-Compete Agreements: Frequently Asked Questions
What Does a Non-Compete Agreement Cover?
A non-compete agreement is essentially a written contract that addresses the issue of competition. It is typically drafted to cover a certain period following the end of your employment with the company. There are a variety of areas that a non-compete agreement addresses. These include but are not limited to:
- Client relationships, lists, and associated data/contact information
- Proprietary or sensitive information
- Valuable ideas and trademarked business practices in direct competition with the company
- Trade secrets
- Clients, patients, and customers within a specific geographic location
The language of the non-compete agreement can range from very broad to very specific, which is particularly important when it comes to your legal rights. If you have been fired for violating an employment agreement, a non-compete attorney can examine the contract and specific language to determine if you may have a case.
Did you know non-compete agreements are not limited to regular employees? They may be utilized with contractors, consultants, and also with outside professionals that are involved in mergers and acquisitions.
How Long is a Non-Compete Agreement Valid?
Non-compete agreements must be limited to a reasonable amount of time. Employees do have to make a living once they leave an employer — and the legal system understands that. Typically, a non-compete agreement is considered valid for up to six months. Depending on the language of the particular employer/employee agreement, a Florida court can decide that it could be valid for up to two years. But — it is up to the employer to prove that the time restriction is reasonable, not the employee. Non-compete agreements are usually presumed invalid after two years, though there are occasions where a longer period of time may be appropriate.
How Enforceable is a Non-Compete Agreement?
Enforceability of these agreements present unique, fact sensitive considerations. That is why it is essential to consult with an experienced non-compete lawyer. They have the legal knowledge to review and analyze comprehensive agreements between you and your employer (or former employer).
The Florida law that addresses non-compete agreements is found at Fla. Stat. § 542.335, under Title XXXIII for the Regulation of Trade, Commerce, Investments, and Solicitations. In general terms, the agreement is enforceable if it is supported by a “legitimate business interest,” which could include restrictions of competition in particular geographical areas, sales tactics, product information, client lists, etc. as listed above.
Consider this as a general rule — the smaller the geographical area and the shorter the time frame, the easier it is for the non-compete agreement to be enforced. But note — many employers will draft employment agreements that are quite broad, intentionally making it confusing (and even intimidating).
How Do They Get Legally Enforced? What are My Options?
Employees and former employees have a number of options. You may be able to get a temporary, preliminary, or even a permanent injunction preventing the enforcement of an agreement. You may also be awarded monetary damages for unpaid wages and/or commissions if you prevail. Another option could be filing a lawsuit asking the court to declare your rights under the agreement ( a “dec” action.) Most of the time, however, it is the employer who takes action to enforce the agreement that may include action by your employer/former employer against your new employer. This litigation moves quickly and very costly. Carefully evaluating the agreement before you are potentially in breach is key.
Any legal options you may choose should be carefully considered. One may be more appropriate than others depending on the language of your non-compete agreement and the circumstances of your employment. If you left the company under duress or if the agreement was set up for an unreasonable amount of time, your best legal courses could be different. A non-compete lawyer can confidentially discuss your options for your situation.
Are You Subject to a Non-Compete Agreement?
This might be confusing for you, depending on the language of the agreement. If the language was very vague or broad, a non-compete lawyer should review it to determine your legal obligations. The same tenant applies if the employment agreement was for an extended period, such as more than two years.
It may not be valid, and Florida workers have a right to pursue their chosen careers — and hold employers accountable if they have violated the law.
Contact an Experienced Employment Law Attorney
At Wenzel Fenton Cabassa P.A., we have extensive experience helping employees with legal issues surrounding non-compete agreements. We know the tactics and motivations of employers — giving us valuable “ammunition” when it comes to fighting for employee rights surrounding non-compete agreements.
When careers are at risk, we are here to help. Did you get fired for not signing a non-compete agreement? You may have a case. Are you unsure if your current non-compete agreement is valid or enforceable? We can thoroughly review and analyze the document and provide expert legal guidance in determining your best options are moving forward.
We fight aggressively for the rights of employees every day in comprehensive areas of employment law, including non-compete agreements, unpaid overtime, payment disputes, EEOC mediation, wrongful termination, and more.
Wenzel Fenton Cabassa P.A. has received multiple honors including Top Lawyers from Tampa Magazine (2019); Best Law Firms by U.S. & World Report – Employment Law, Individuals, Tier One for Tampa (2019); and a 10.0 Avvo Rating, the highest rating given by the organization rating 97% of the lawyers in the United States.