Can my boss enforce the non-compete I signed?

Probably.  People often want to get out of non-compete agreements, and it’s harder than most people think it will be.  Generally, these agreements prohibit you from working in the same geographical area doing the same type of business for a period of time.  As long as these restrictions are reasonable, courts will usually enforce them.  Companies may require their employees to protect trade secrets (e.g., recipes) or client contacts.

However, in certain circumstances, courts have found agreements not to compete to be unenforceable.  For example, if there’s no limitation on the geographical range of the non-compete, courts find that to be an “unfair restraint on trade.”  It doesn’t really protect a bakery in Connecticut to prohibit its employee from working at a bakery in California, as the business in California is not likely to be stealing the Connecticut bakery’s customers.

In one recent case before the Kentucky Supreme Court , the court held that an agreement not to compete was unenforceable because the agreement was not “supported by adequate consideration.”  What that means is that it was not a fair bargain- the employee was asked to give up his right to be in a certain line of work but the company did not give anything in return for the employee’s loss.  Here is the court’s explanation:

“Creech (the employer) offered nothing to Brown (the employee) in exchange for his signature on the Agreement except to get Charles Creech’s daughter ‘off their backs.’ Creech did not, by way of the Agreement, hire or rehire Brown because the Agreement… was not part of an employment contract. Furthermore, the Agreement cannot be construed as Creech ‘hiring’ or ‘rehiring’ Brown because the Agreement does not contain any of the indicia of an employment contract, i.e. it does not state what job Brown would be doing or what salary or wages Brown would be paid. In other words, the Agreement did not alter the terms of the employment relationship between Creech and Brown and was not ‘the same as new employment.’ Thus, Creech did not provide consideration to Brown by hiring or rehiring him based on his acceptance of the Agreement.”

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