In the modern workplace, noncompete agreements are an accepted part of doing business for many employees. Employers often include some form of noncompete clause in their employment contracts, whether it is practical or even legal.
For many employees, the prospect of landing a job that they want or need is so enticing that they sign a contract they do not fully understand, especially when it comes to noncompete clauses. After all, not everyone is already thinking about a potential job after the job offer they just received.
Unfortunately, as the notion of remaining with a single employer for the bulk of one's career grows outdated, employees must scrutinize noncompete clauses. In many instances, employers may include noncompete language so all-encompassing that an employee faces difficulty finding a job they can legally accept if they choose to leave.
Understanding scope and duration
In broad terms, courts allow employers to include noncompete language in a contract as long as it has a reasonable scope and duration. This means that it cannot restrict an employee from seeking reasonably unrelated employment, and the restriction may only last for a reasonable amount of time.
In practice, however, some companies include wildly impractical noncompete language in contracts knowing that an employee is unlikely to use their own time and resources to fight it. This sort of 800-pound gorilla behavior is not acceptable and should not go unchallenged.
While standards shift from region to region and within individual industries, most courts acknowledge the validity of agreements that restrict competing employment for two years after an employee leaves. The acceptable boundaries within individual industries are specific and require individual consideration.
Geographical restrictions are more difficult to navigate in the digital age, but they are still important. It may make sense for an employer to restrict competition in a given sales region, but not an entire country, for instance.
Protect your rights for the sake of all workers
Fighting back against unfair noncompete terms not only helps protect your own rights and dignity, it shores up the rights of other employees who do not have the resources or internal motivation to fight professional mistreatment.
Do not hesitate to use the strength of the law to push for fair terms in any employment contract, for your own sake and to improve the working lives of others around you in the workplace.