In Texas, employees have the right to resign from employment and go into business in competition with their employers (absent a non-compete agreement). There is nothing legally wrong in engaging in such competition or in preparing to compete before the employment terminates.
Thus, as a general rule, an employee can prepare to compete with the employer while still on the employer’s payroll. There are several caveats to that, however:
- Employees cannot use their employers’ resources – such as company-provided computers – to engage in the preparatory activities.
- Employees cannot prepare to compete while on the clock.
- Employees cannot use their position within the company and their knowledge of the company’s trade secrets and confidential information to divert business to their new company or to create business opportunities for their new business.
Where an employee is discovered to have engaged in some activities in anticipation of his new endeavor while still working for his old employer, the question often arises whether he was preparing to compete or actually competing with the employer.
For example, registering a company with the Secretary of State is a clearly preparatory activity. However, advertising the formation of the company on social media or creating a website announcing that the company will be opening soon can be viewed as a competitive activity. In illustration, the Pennsylvania Superior Court recently held that a company which set up a Facebook page announcing that it was going to open a veterinary clinic “soon” and provided a link to a map showing the location of the future clinic was not merely “preparing to compete” but was actually competing and soliciting customers. The court explained that:
Upon review of that document, it is obvious that, collectively, the [Facebook] posts, “coming soon” announcement, and map directions, are tantamount to a solicitation of past or future clients in contravention of the non-compete clause. The resounding purpose of the Facebook page, and the attendant communications therein, was to inform the followers of the page, including former clients, that he intended to open a new clinic and to keep them apprised of his progress. There is but one reason for O’Laughlin to create the O’Laughlin Veterinary Services Facebook page and maintain contact with former clients: to solicit their business.
BOTTOM LINE FOR EMPLOYERS: While employees have the right to prepare to compete before their employment is terminated, they cannot cross the line and actually compete with their employers. If you learn that your employee is announcing on social media or online that he or she is getting ready to go into competition with your company, it might be a good time to call an employment lawyer.
Leiza represents companies in business and employment litigation. If you need assistance with a business or employment dispute contact Leiza for a confidential consultation at Leiza.Dolghih@lewisbrisbois.com or (214) 722-7108 or fill out the form below.