By John V. Berry, Esq., www.berrylegal.com
Northern Virginia, given it’s proximity to Washington, DC, has numerous businesses engaged in government contracting. Given this fact, and the fact that these types of businesses tend to be very competitive, there has been a significant rise in the number of employees that are required to sign non-competition or “non-compete” agreements as part of their employment requirements. Over the past 10 years or so, we have noticed that businesses in Virginia are using “non-compete” agreements in their hiring processes far more than before. The rise in non-compete agreements in Virginia has not been limited to just government contractor positions, but also includes many types of other businesses as well ranging in size from small to large.
What is a Non-Compete Agreement?
A non-compete agreement is merely a written agreement where an employee agrees not to leave an employer and then compete for the same business when they leave that employment. Typically, non-compete clauses are inserted in employment agreements by an employer during the hiring process and have become somewhat commonplace. Common characteristics of non-compete agreements include duration of the non-competition period, limits as to competition for certain customers and the geographic boundaries of the non-competition area.
What Types of Issues Arise with Respect to Non-Compete Agreements in Virginia
Non-compete agreements in the Commonwealth of Virginia tend to be viewed as somewhat disfavored and have been viewed somewhat negatively as a type of restraint on business. As a result, in Virginia, non-compete agreements have a better chance of success, if enforcement is attempted, the more narrowly tailored that they are. Courts in Virginia will enforce reasonable non-compete agreements. Non-compete agreements, in this narrow sense, must be prepared to: (1) protect a bona fide employer’s interest; (2) must be reasonable; and (3) must not be against public policy. There are a number of specific features that come into play in Virginia with respect to these 3 variables. Typically, a valid business interest is considered the extent to which a non-compete agreement protects the employer from poaching existing customers, trade secrets, or other confidential information.
Keeping in mind that these types of non-compete agreements must be drawn narrowly, courts in Virginia will not enforce agreements that are overbroad or unreasonable. Some pitfalls in non-compete agreements include the following: (1) agreements that impose overbroad geographical limitations (i.e. a prohibition on competing in the United States where the service area is only a portion of Virginia); (2) unreasonable time constraints (i.e. a 20-year restriction; although each determination is based on the individual facts of a case); (3) agreements prohibiting an employee from working in any capacity for a competitor; (4) agreements whose terms and not clear or discernible; (5) agreements for licensed professionals (physicians, lawyers, etc.) which may be barred on public policy grounds; and (6) agreements that unfairly burden an employee’s ability to obtain alternative employment.
Other potential issues with non-compete agreements exist and it is important for an employer to structure a clear and fair non-compete agreement in order for it to be upheld by the Virginia courts. It is important for an employee to understand their obligations as well.
Obtain Legal Advice About Non-Compete Agreements
When entering into a non-compete agreement or when questions arise as a result of the non-compete agreement it is very important to seek counsel before signing this type of agreement or when questions of enforcement arise. Our law firm represents employees and businesses with respect to non-compete agreements. We can be contacted at www.berrylegal.com for legal advice and consultation in such matters. Please also visit and like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/BerryBerryPllc.
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