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.
In Texas, the reason for termination of employment – whether it was for cause, without cause, a layoff, a reduction in force, or any other reason – does not affect the enforceability of a non-compete agreement. Therefore, employers should not assume that non-competition agreements are no longer enforceable and must carefully approach enforcement of such agreements against departing employees as well as the hiring of new employees who may be still bound by non-competition agreements with their former employers.
On February 7, 2020, the American Medical Association submitted a letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) concerning non-compete agreements in the workplace and urged