Overview: One type of employment contract is the noncompete agreement. A noncompete agreement prevents an employee from pursuing a similar profession or trade in competition against the employer (usually post-employment). Noncompetition agreements are used to discourage an employee from working for a competitor using the specialized knowledge, skills, or confidential information gained while working for the employer.
The majority of the states recognize and enforce various forms of noncompete agreements. Generally, the terms of a noncompete agreement will only be enforced to the extent necessary to protect the employer's legitimate business interests. Most states will enforce a noncompete agreement if contains reasonable limitations as to the geographical area and time period in which an employee may not compete with the employer.
Trends: Last year, the Wall Street Journal reported that there has been a 61% increase since 2002 on the number of court decisions involving noncompete agreements. However, this number was based only on published decisions and did not take into account cases settled out of court or unreported decisions. Although employers enforcing noncompetes may be accomplishing their goal of discouraging employees from starting up a rival company, the practice may have the unintended effect of stifling innovation (especially in the high tech industry). In fact, in pursuit of economic development, innovation and entrepreneurship, the Governor of Massachusetts supports the elimination of noncompete agreements.
Author: Melissa A. Silver, JD, Legal Editor
In order to protect their legitimate business interests, employers may require their employees to sign a noncompetition agreement restricting an employee's ability to work for a competitor. This chart details the key requirements and enforceability considerations of noncompetition agreements in all 50 states.
Updated to include a state supreme court decision discussing the narrow scope of public policy exceptions for the wrongful discharge of an at-will employee.
Updated to reflect forthcoming amendments to the Arkansas Civil Rights Act.
Updated to remove December 1, 2016, overtime requirements that will not be implemented or enforced.
The Obama administration has announced several steps to reduce what it sees as the misuse of noncompete agreements, including urging states to ban noncompetes altogether for certain jobs.
Updated to include information on Swindol v. Aurora Flight Sciences Corp., which concerns a statutory equivalent of a public policy exception to the employment at-will doctrine.
Updated to reflect state Supreme Court ruling prohibiting courts from modifying the terms of noncompete agreements.
Guidance for HR on the use of noncompete agreements to prevent employees from competing with the employer.