Florida is an “at will” employment state. What that means is that an employee can quit at any time and an employer can fire an employee at any time for any reason as long as it is not an illegal reason. Some examples of illegal reasons would be discriminatory reasons (i.e., Race, sex, religion) other examples of illegal reasons are because an employee files a worker’s compensation claim, or because an employee reports illegal activity on the part of the employer. Employees who have contracts with their employers are governed under those contracts. There are also specific contracts known as Non-compete agreements that bind an employee during and after employment with an employer.
Florida has a Non-compete Statute which can be found at Florida Statute 542.335. This statute governs the enforceability of non-compete agreements. The basic premise of the statute is that the agreement must be reasonable. Reasonable as to time and reasonable as to geographic location. It also must be ”reasonably necessary to protect the legitimate business interest” of the employer. Florida courts have essentially decided these cases on a case-by-case basis look at each case and its specific facts to determine the reasonableness of a non-compete agreement. There is no “bright line” test as to what will be held to be a valid non-compete agreement. Your Jacksonville employment attorney can assist you in determining whether or not your non-compete agreement is valid or questionable. Case law has set some guidelines for the employee and employer to follow but the area of the law is still somewhat ambiguous. For example, case law has indicated that a two-year term following the employee’s termination from employment was a reasonable timeframe. In regard to geographic location, the courts have held in some cases that even a statewide provision was reasonable depending upon the whether the employer does business statewide and whether it has regional offices within the state. Most litigation regarding non-compete agreements hinge on what is a protectable legitimate business interest.
In a recent case, White vs Mederi Caretenders Visiting Servs. Of Southeast Florida LLC, 226 So.3d 774 (Fla. 2017), the Supreme Court of Florida held that a company’s referral source may be a protectable legitimate business interest. In making that ruling, the Court encouraged the active involvement of trial courts in assessing the enforceability of non-compete agreements. The Court emphasized that trial courts were best able to apply the statute to specific fact situations and that the Florida Non-compete Statute and the legislative intent behind the statute “grants trial courts fairly wide discretion to fashion the appropriate context-dependent remedy.” A Non-compete agreement can include an employee’s agreement not to work for the employer’s competitors, an agreement not to solicit the employer’s customers or other employees of the employer and a confidentiality clause. Florida’s Non-compete statute identifies five items that are considered legitimate business interests and they are: trade secrets; valuable confidential information; substantial relationships with customers, patients and clients; goodwill; and extraordinary or specialized training. If your employer is asking you to sign a non-compete agreement, you should take the agreement to a Jacksonville employment lawyer for review before signing it.