Florida Appellate Court Upholds Enforcement of Noncompete Clause in Employment Contract

Landing your dream job or finding an exciting employment opportunity can be a life-changing event. Before you sign your employment contract, however, it is important to understand how its terms may affect you if you decide to part ways with that company down the road. Even when we make our best efforts to review and understand an agreement, sometimes disputes arise down the road. You and your employer may have very different ideas about how the terms should be interpreted, creating delays and headaches.

One of the most common terms in an employment contract is a noncompete clause. This term prevents one party from entering into or starting a profession or business that would compete with the employer. The Florida Fifth District Court of Appeals recently upheld a lower court’s decision that a noncompete clause in an employment agreement was enforceable. In Nichols v. Moore, Stephens, Lovelace, P.A., the plaintiff challenged the enforcement of a noncompete clause included in her employment contract after the plaintiff and her employer ended the employment relationship.

In upholding the lower court’s order, the appellate court relied on a 2009 case from the Fifth District, Envtl. Servs., Inc. v. Carter. In that case, the plaintiff, an environmental consulting business, sought an injunction to prevent a number of its former employees from performing certain tasks for their current employers. The plaintiff alleged that the activities would violate certain provisions of the employment agreements that the individuals signed at the outset of their employment with the plaintiff’s company.

In reviewing the terms of the employment contracts, the lower court determined that the agreement contained five separate restrictive covenants:  nonsolicitation, noncompetition, surrender of employment documents upon termination of employment, confidentiality, and a prohibition on interference with other employees’ employment. The trial court rejected the enforcement of the non-solicitation clause, finding it was not presented in an obvious and open manner in the agreement. Regarding the noncompete clause, the court concluded that it was invalid because it was not restricted to a specified geographic area. Although the court concluded that the non-solicitation clause was valid, it found the term unenforceable as it applied to the parties’ situation because former clients of the plaintiff had contacted the former employees directly to retain their services.

Applied to the Nichols case, the court concluded that the noncompetition clause in the agreement was clear, unambiguous, and reasonably limited in time. Also, the court noted that the clause did not preclude any and all forms of competition, which would have been unreasonable. Although the agreement lacked a geographical limitation, the appellate court agreed with the lower court that this did not render the noncompetition clause unenforceable.

If you are facing a dispute with your former employer regarding a noncompetition clause, the knowledgeable and experienced labor and employment attorneys at Lusk, Drasites & Tolisano are standing by. Our team is well-versed in employment matters, including wage violation disputes. We proudly serve clients throughout Southwest Florida, including in Fort Myers, Naples, and Cape Coral. Call us at 1-800-283-7442 or contact us online to set up a free consultation.

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