Organizations both large and small have historically fought to protect their assets. Through a noncompete clause, these assets are generally expanded to include the actual knowledge and experience of an employee seeking to leave for another opportunity. The language can be nebulous, but the agreement essentially stipulates that an employee cannot leave to begin work at a competitor – usually for a specified length of time or within a certain proximity. Are these types of employee agreements enforceable?
While noncompete clauses were originally intended to protect crucial knowledge of processes that might have only been learned by upper level managers, engineers or researchers, they have become more generalized in the last two decades.
The most recent data suggests that lawsuits centering on noncompete clauses and trade-secrets have roughly tripled since the year 2000.
Why is this?
Employers can draft a noncompete agreement to be as general or specific as they’d like. It can be filled with language suggesting a certain time period, a proximity or vaguely defining what a “competing organization” actually is. Unfortunately, while these agreements used to be reserved for only the top echelon of a business, they are now being expanded to include everyone from the department head to the worker on the factory floor.
In an era where knowledge, experience or a unique manufacturing process can be the only things separating a world filled with similar products, companies are extremely protective of what sets them apart from other organizations.
From white collar executives to blue collar laborers, it is crucial to understand the type of employee agreement that is placed in front of you. While it is possible to challenge a noncompete clause, you might struggle for years to reach a successful resolution. It is wise to seek the counsel of an experienced employment law attorney to review a noncompete clause before you sign it – or before you decide to leave your company.