Many people go to work for a company and sign what is known as a non-compete agreement. This is often part of your employment contract. The language says that you cannot work in the same or a similar business for up to two years after you leave your employer. Such agreements are becoming more popular as businesses seek a way to protect their investment.
I am often asked if such agreements are legal. Let me assure you that in almost all cases they are.
Florida law covers such a situation under Florida Statute 542.335. This says that contracts which restrict trade or prohibit competition are valid and enforceable. If you are an employee or an independent contractor or an agent of a company then you can be restricted for up to two years from competing in that trade or business within a reasonable territory. The restriction is usually for direct or indirect competition. In other words, you cannot be employed by a competing company but also cannot advise that company or be an owner or otherwise give them any help.
A non-compete must be in writing and signed. The employer must assert that he has a ‘legitimate business interest’ in enforcing the restriction such as protecting clients from being stolen or that he provided your training or that you know too many secrets about the business. Once the employer demonstrates such a legitimate purpose then you have to prove that the restriction should not be enforced, a hard job under the circumstances.
If you violate the agreement the former employer can ask a judge to immediately restrain or stop you from working, he might also be able to make you to pay attorney fees and damages if your agreement allows for them.
The key is to read anything you sign very carefully. Understand that the agreement that gives you a job may take one away in the future. If your boss wants a non-compete see if you can negotiate.
This discussion is only a summary of the very important issues that control non-compete agreements in Florida. For more information please call Ocala Attorney Michael J. Cooper at 352-732-4500 or email mcooper@michaeljcooper.com for an appointment. We look forward to helping you.