Non Compete & confidentiality agreement legality?

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Non Compete & confidentiality agreement legality?

I was working for a company from 2006 to 2009. When I started the contract I signed only had a confidentiality agreement. 2 years into employment about spring of 2008. The company handed out employee handbooks. They made us all sign for the book before we received them and we were not able to read them before we signed. The handbooks contained a non compete clause and a confidentiality agreement. I am of the understanding that the non compete may not be enforceable in Wisconsin, due to the way we were made to sign the agreement? I am asking because I want to run a business in the field I was in.

Asked on June 24, 2009 under Business Law, Wisconsin

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 12 years ago | Contributor

Generally speaking, an agreement that you were not allowed to read before signing will not be enforceable, though of course you would need to prove that you were not given any opportunity to read it.

Also, generally speaking, courts tend to not like non-compete agreements, especially overly broad ones and also when the employee did not have substantial bargaining power (i.e. was not an owner of the business).

If the agreement is too broad--limits you for too long a time, in too large a geographic area--then it will probably not be enforced; or if it is enforced, will likely be cut down to more reasonable levels.

Conversely, if you were high level, or had access to particularly important information (like customer/client files) it's more likely to be enforced.

If the time period for the noncompete is reasonable--say, 6 months or so--your best bet may be to not fight it, but to just wait it out. Similarly, if the geographic area is reasonble--say the county your employer is in--it's probably better to simply start up outside the area. The reason is, even if you'd win, who needs a lawsuit?

If the time period and geographic scope is larger than you could wait out or avoid, you should get a consultation from a local attorney, with a copy of the agreement in hand--the issue of whether noncompetes are enforceable is a very fact-specific one, depending on the scope of the agreement, it's language, your job, the industry, etc.


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