"I found a better job making more money so I can take better care of my family and now I'm being sued for violating a non-compete."
"I don't even remember ever signing a non-compete."
I get this call a couple times a month. Over the last 10 years or so, the use of non-compete agreements has exploded in Texas. It used to be that such agreements were only for the highest level executives or for those who had access to true trade secrets of the company. Not anymore.
The law regarding the enforceability of non-compete agreements in Texas has changed drastically in the last few years. Prior to 2006, Texas courts had many reasons by which they could find a non-compete agreement to be unenforceable and routinely found non-compete agreements unenforceable on a variety of grounds. However, following several recent decisions by the Supreme Court of Texas loosening past standards, Texas non-compete agreements will be much easier to enforce in the future.
Texas courts do still require non-compete agreements to be reasonably limited as to time, geographical area, and scope of work. As the court’s determination on the reasonableness requirement is highly fact specific, it is difficult to set out any bright line rules. Each agreement needs to be evaluated on its own in the context of that particular employment relationship. If the court reforms an overly broad non-compete agreement, then the employee may be entitled to an award of attorney's fees in his or her favor.
Bottom line: Non-compete law in Texas is complicated and must be taken seriously. If an employer asks you to sign an employment agreement or if you have signed an agreement already and you want to know whether taking a new position could create a legal problem, get a board certified employment lawyer to review the agreement for you. Likewise, if you have been served with a cease and desist letter, temporary restraining order or lawsuit, go see a qualified attorney right away.