If you land a new job only to realize that you signed a non-compete agreement with a previous employer years ago, you may wonder if there is anything you can do.
The first step is to understand what a non-competition agreement is and what it can and cannot do. A non-compete or a non-competition clause is intended to prevent an employee from working for a former employer’s competitor, starting a similar business, or taking a former employer’s customers.
That said, a non-competition agreement has to be reasonable. An agreement cannot bar a previous employee from working for a competitor or starting their own business indefinitely. Nor can it cover too broad of a geographic area.
A reasonable non-competition agreement will typically restrict an employee from taking a similar job or starring a similar business for up to two years, within a geographic area which is often defined as a previous employee’s territory or a certain mile radius from a previous employer.
If a non-competition agreement clause goes beyond these “reasonable” parameters, a court may find the non-competition agreement unreasonable and declare it unenforceable.
If you discover that you are bound by a non-competition agreement you entered into years ago, there are a couple of options if you find employment that conflicts with the agreement. First, review your non-competition agreement with an experienced post employment competition attorney to determine if it is indeed reasonable. If you find that it is not, your attorney can either approach a previous employer to modify the agreement or take the matter to court.
If your agreement is reasonable, you may still want to at least try to work with a previous employer to modify the agreement so you can accept new employment. The only other option is to adhere to the non-competition agreement, seeking employment or starting a business that does not conflict with the terms of the non-competition clause.
It is not advisable to ignore a non-competition agreement – reasonable or unreasonable – even if you know of instances where an employer did not enforce a non-competition agreement with another employee. If you violate a non-competition agreement, a previous employer can, and likely will, sue to protect their business interests.
When you have questions regarding non-competition agreements in Wisconsin, contact the employment law offices of Alan C. Olson & Associates for answers at 262-785-9606.