If I worked for a company a year and half ago, can I open my own business?

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If I worked for a company a year and half ago, can I open my own business?

I worked for a cleaning company for 6 months ago. When I took employment there, I had to sign a paper stating that I couldnt open my own cleaning business until I was not employed by them for 2 years. I wrote a month notice and 2 weeks later before Christmas bonuses where handed out, they let me go. I knew this was wrong, so I left. I’m looking into doing my own business but to be safe I want to make sure they won’t come after me.

Asked on March 23, 2018 under Employment Labor Law, Ohio

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 3 years ago | Contributor

For a more definitive answer, you need to consult  with an attorney who can evaluate the exact terms of the agreement you signed and the exact circumstances in depth. That said, as a general matter:
That said, you write that they "let me go." But you also write "I left." What happened is critical. As a general matter, if the employer terminates or fires you, then unless they had given you some specific  payment (bonus, stock, etc.) for signing the agreement, they cannot enforce it against you. The "consideration," or thing of value necessary to an enforceable contract, which they had given you to bind the agreement was taken away when the took your job away; if there is no consideration given to you, the agreement is not enforceable. The law also does not allow the company to take your job away and then prevent you from working. So if you were terminated, they cannot enforce it, unless you received something else of value in exchange for signing.
But if you quit, they can enforce it: when an employee leaves the job, the noncompete still binds them. So whether you were terminated or left on your own is the most critical question.
Two years is longer than most noncompetes are enforceable except against former company owners; generally, the lower level you were, the shorter the noncompete. So it may be that even if you quit or resigned or otherwise left voluntarily, that they cannot enforce the full 2 years against you; generally, for non-executives, 6-12 months is what is enforceable. 


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