Can your employer enforce a noncompete agreement after you quit?

On Behalf of | Apr 29, 2021 | Employment Law |

Many skilled professionals and even blue-collar workers change jobs frequently to continue developing their careers. Long gone are the days when someone stayed at the same place where they got their first job until they retired. Companies don’t always promote from within, so those who have ambition often need to move on after establishing themselves at one business if they hope to get a better title or earn more money.

Businesses, wary of losing their competitive edge, may include certain restrictive covenants in their employment contract. For example, workers in Pennsylvania may have to sign a noncompete agreement. Such an agreement prohibits the worker from working for competitors or starting a competing business. If you plan to leave a job, do you have to worry about your employer enforcing that noncompete agreement?

Not all restrictive covenants hold up in court

Many employers simply include such agreements and clauses in their contracts as a deterrent to intellectual property theft or unfair competition. They don’t actively enforce them but expect that workers will behave ethically when they move on to another job.

Other companies may take someone to court if they start their own business or take a job with a competing company in the same industry. If your employer chooses to enforce the noncompete agreement, you will have to defend yourself. Thankfully, the Pennsylvania courts can and do decide not to uphold noncompete agreements when they are unfair to workers.

What might weaken a noncompete agreement?

Many different mistakes in the language of a noncompete agreement could make it unenforceable in court. Courts are unlikely to uphold an agreement that is too broad and creates an undue burden on you as a worker. It would not be fair for a company to permanently prevent you from working in a field where you have a bachelor’s degree nor would it be fair for them to restrict you from working for any business in that industry worldwide.

The courts are more likely to uphold an agreement that has time restrictions and geographic limitations on its enforceability. Even then, workers can sometimes push back against the enforcement of the agreement if the company did not offer them something valuable in exchange for signing it.

Those who signed an agreement at the time of receiving a job offer may have to uphold the agreement, but those asked to sign it while already employed and without additional consideration from the company may not be bound by the terms in the agreement.

Reviewing the noncompete agreement and your future employment or business plans can give you a better idea about the likelihood of enforcement efforts and the courts siding with your employer.

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