Wage-fixing, i.e., agreeing with competitors that everyone will pay the same wage or will not pay more than a pre-agreed amount, is illegal. Just as companies can’t get together and fix prices for goods, they are also prohibited from fixing prices for services. A recent indictment of a Texas ex-owner of a staffing agency alleging that he engaged in price fixing shows that DOJ and FBI take wage-fixing arrangement seriously. The indicted ex-owner now faces up to 15 years in prison and over a million dollars in fines.
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.
A recent decision from the Thirteenth Court of Appeals in Texas serves as a cautionary tale for Texas employers seeking to enforce their non-compete agreements. In this case, a company that provided surgical assistants to surgical facilities and physicians sued a former employee for breaching his 2-year non-compete covenant, which prohibited him from “in any way” offering his services to any “client institutions or client surgeons” of his former employer.
An employer cannot wrongfully breach a provision of an employment contract that is favorable to the employee (such as reducing his wages without his consent and without contractual authority to do so) an then go into a court of equity to secure, by injunction, the enforcement of another provision favorable to it.”
Many companies in Texas have non-competition agreements with their employees, but not all companies enforce them. Some companies will sue the departing employees for violating non-compete agreements, even thought such agreement may not be valid under Texas laws. Others, will not bother with enforcement even though they have valid agreements on hand. The reality is that the validity of a non-compete agreement is only one factor in a company’s decision whether to enforce it.