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Unenforceable Non-Compete Agreements

Unenforceable Non-Compete Agreements: What You Need to Know

Non-compete agreements have become a common practice among many companies in the United States, especially in the tech industry. These agreements prevent employees from working for a competitor after leaving their current employer. However, not all non-compete agreements are enforceable under the law. In this article, we will explore what makes non-compete agreements unenforceable and how employees can protect themselves.

What is a Non-Compete Agreement?

A non-compete agreement is a legal document that prohibits an employee from working for a competitor of their employer for a certain period of time after leaving their job. These agreements are commonly used to prevent employees from sharing trade secrets with competitors, soliciting the employer`s customers, or starting a competing business.

Non-compete agreements are often included in employment contracts and are signed by employees before they start the job. They can be broad or narrow in scope, covering a specific geographic location or a particular industry. Some agreements even prohibit employees from working for any competitor anywhere in the world for a certain period of time.

What Makes a Non-Compete Agreement Unenforceable?

Although non-compete agreements are legal in most states, they must meet certain criteria to be enforceable. If a non-compete agreement is too broad or too restrictive, it may be considered unenforceable under the law. Generally, a non-compete agreement is unenforceable if it:

1. Is too long in duration: The length of time a non-compete agreement is in effect must be reasonable. Generally, this means the agreement should not exceed two years.

2. Covers too broad a geographic area: The agreement must be limited to a specific geography where the employer actually does business.

3. Restricts too many types of work: The agreement must be limited to the actual work the employee did for the employer.

4. Is not necessary to protect a legitimate business interest: The employer must have a legitimate business interest that requires the protection of their business through a non-compete agreement.

How Employees Can Protect Themselves

If you are asked to sign a non-compete agreement, it is important to read the agreement carefully and understand its terms. If you believe the agreement is too restrictive or goes beyond what is reasonable, you may want to negotiate with your employer to modify the terms of the agreement.

In some cases, employees may even choose to refuse to sign a non-compete agreement. However, refusing to sign a non-compete agreement could result in the employer rescinding a job offer or terminating an existing employment relationship. Therefore, it is important to understand the potential consequences before refusing to sign.

If you have already signed a non-compete agreement and are considering leaving your current employer, it is important to review the terms of the agreement with an attorney. An attorney can help you understand your rights and whether the agreement is enforceable under the law. Additionally, an attorney can help you negotiate with your employer to modify the terms of the agreement or find ways to work around it.


Non-compete agreements can be a useful tool for employers to protect their legitimate business interests. However, these agreements must be reasonable in duration, scope, and necessity. If a non-compete agreement is too broad or too restrictive, it may be considered unenforceable under the law. Therefore, it is important for employees to read non-compete agreements carefully, negotiate the terms if necessary, and seek legal advice before signing or leaving a job.