Whether a medical practice can bind a physician with a non-compete agreement depends on where the medical practice is located and which state’s law governs the contract. Some states – California, Oklahoma, Alabama, North Dakota, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island – either prohibit all employment non-compete agreements or physician employment non-competes specifically. Meanwhile, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Indiana, Tennessee, West Virginia, District of Columbia, Connecticut, and Delaware have special rules regarding physician non-competes.
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-pencilling is permitted, leaving employers in limbo.
In non-compete disputes in Texas, employers often argue that everything that they provided to employees was confidential, while employees argue that nothing that was provided to them was confidential. As the result, the issue of confidentiality often ends up being an ultimate “fact issue” that must be resolved by a judge or a jury.
In Texas, client non-solicitation agreements are subject to the same rules as the non-compete agreements. Therefore, they must be “reasonable” and “not impose a greater restraint than is necessary to protect the goodwill or other business interest” of the employer.
While the enforcement of non-compete agreements around the country remains strong, the courts are looking closer at whether an employee will suffer “undue hardship” if his or her non-compete is enforced. Thus, employers should avoid taking unreasonable positions in court and be prepared to explain why enforcing a particular non-competition agreement will not prevent an employee from earning a living.
In Texas, a 5 to 10 year non-compete agreement related to a sale of business is the norm. n addition to the non-compete restrictions in the sale documents, those sellers who stay employed by the buyer after the sale often sign a second non-compete agreement as part of their employment package, which does not kick in until after their employment with the buyer terminates.