Written by attorney Brian Robert Barjenbruch

I agreed not to compete with my employer, can my employer really stop me from working if I leave?

When you start a new job, your new employer may hand you dozens of pages of documents to review and sign. After you had the chance to read those documents, you may have discovered that you agreed to not compete with your new employer, even after you leave your current job.

Employers can and do include requirements in their employment agreements to stop former employees from competing for their business. Because these types of competition agreement affect the livelihoods of former employees, these agreements must be sought for a legitimate purpose and have reasonable limits. For example, noncompete agreements can be used to protect an employer’s trade secrets, or an employer’s interest in its past and current customers. Noncompete agreements must have reasonable limits, both in time and in geographic area.

So, if you find that you did enter into an agreement not to compete with your current employer, and you want to change jobs and still work in the industry you are working in now, is there anything you can do? Depending on the situation, you may have options. The best thing to do in this situation is to promptly seek the advice of an attorney. If your present employer takes your agreement not to compete seriously, your present employer can do a lot of things to keep you out of an industry in which you have spent a lot of time training and perfecting your skills. Depending on your particular situation, an attorney may be able to give you advice and handle a dispute with your former employer in a way that gets you back into your chosen profession.

Several factors can make a noncompete agreement unenforceable, such as the way in which the noncompete agreement was negotiated and the terms of the noncompete agreement. Making these determinations often requires a court to evaluate the terms of the agreement and the laws of the state that may affect the agreement. However, just like any other legal dispute, the employer and former employee may come together after an employee leaves his or her job and negotiate the terms under which a former employee can compete with the employer or work for the employer’s competition.

Depending on your employer, a noncompete agreement can be a serious hurdle to obtaining a new job. If you go to work for a competitor of your current employer, your current employer may have the option of getting a court to stop you from working for the competitor. If you are thinking of moving jobs and you have a noncompete agreement, the best thing you may do for your future is to seek the advice of an attorney.

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