Are non-competes legal?

UPDATED: Aug 29, 2011

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Are non-competes legal?

I work as a project manager and want to take a new position at another company doing the same. My current employee said I will be sued if I take this position at another company. Is this a valid way a employer can make you stay at your current position?

Asked on August 29, 2011 Maryland


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

First question--did you sign a noncompetition agreement? If you did, then subject to the limitations below, it  is enforcable--i.e. you can be sued. If you did not sign a non-competition, your current employer has no grounds to stop you from working anywhere you want (though they could stop you from using confidential or proprietary information in doing so).

If you signed a non-competition, first look to its terms--it will never be enforced more broadly than its terms, so if you take any job not prohibited by it, that's fine.

Non-competition agreements also have to be reasonable in scope; courts will "blue pencil," or rewrite, overly  broad ones to make them more reasonable. While every case differs, and you should speak with an employment attorney for precise guidance as to your situation, generally an employer can (if you signed the agreement) stop you from working in the same or similar position, at a company in the same market (so, selling to same customer base), for usually between 6 and 12 months. They can't stop you from working generally.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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