States around the country vary in how they approach the enforcement of unreasonable non-compete agreements. While the majority of states allow their courts to “blue pencil” or rewrite restrictive covenants to make them reasonable, three states do not permit such reformation, and four states have no clear legal guidance on whether blue-penciling is permitted, leaving employers in limbo.
However, even in those states where the courts routinely blue-pencil non-compete agreements, employers should not rely on that procedure for several reasons:
- Blue-penciling is expensive as it can only be done after a lawsuit is filed;
- Blue-penciling is unpredictable because it is up to the judge assigned to the case what he or she considers to be reasonable;
- Blue-penciling can result in an employer not being able to recover damages caused by a breach of a non-compete agreement that occurred prior to a court rewriting the agreement.
Thus, it is always best to draft a reasonable non-compete agreement rather than to rely on the blue pencil doctrine and hope that a court will “fix” the agreement when the time comes.
Leiza Dolghih is the founder of Dolghih Law Group PLLC. She is board certified in labor and employment law and has 16+ years of experience in commercial and employment litigation, including trade secrets and non-compete disputes. You can contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or (214) 531-2403.