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What Florida employees should know about non-compete agreements

Some Florida employers have employees sign non-compete agreements as a condition of employment. Florida law recognizes and enforces these agreements so long as they are valid and their terms are reasonable.

Employers often have legitimate business reasons to impose non-competes. While the following overview can give you an understanding of how the law determines the legitimacy of a given provision, consulting an attorney is the best way to learn more about your rights in a particular agreement.

Technical requirements

A non-compete agreement is only enforceable if it is in writing and has your signature. Oral agreements are not valid even if there is evidence of their existence.

Effect on employee not a reason to refuse to enforce

The Florida statute specifically states that any resulting economic hardship to the employee is not a reason to invalidate a non-compete provision, even if the employee can show it actually prevents him or her from earning a living.

Agreement must protect legitimate business interests

The employer must also be able to produce legitimate reasons why the the non-compete clause is necessary to protect the company's business. Some examples of valid business interests a clause may protect include a client database, customer relationships, confidential information, trade secrets, or proprietary training or techniques. A business owner may protect him or herself from an employee who leaves the company, goes to work for a competitor and shares important information with that competitor. However, Florida courts tend to examine the substantiality of alleged business reasons rather then just take the employer's word for their importance.

Terms must be reasonable

Agreements must also be reasonable in terms of the time, geographic area and type of business they restrict. Generally, failure to be specific about these items or specifying an indefinite term may result in an unenforceable provision.

Most agreements setting a time of under six months qualify as reasonable, while agreements that set a time of over two years are considered unreasonable. Under most circumstances, courts will not find a term of less than two years unenforceable. The reasonableness of geographic limits generally depends on whether the employer actually does business within these limits.

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