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.
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.
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.
Many companies have been taking advantage of the economic turmoil caused by the pandemic to poach employee talent that they otherwise would not have been able to recruit or afford. Companies that have experienced layoffs, furloughs, salary reductions or bonus freezes, are particularly vulnerable to raiding attempts by their competitors.