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.
Are non-compete agreements enforceable if the employee is terminated? The answer depends on which state the employee is in, as each state has its own laws regarding the enforceability of non-compete agreements.
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.
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.