Question

Are Noncompete Agreements Enforceable in Virginia?

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Answer

Many companies routinely ask their employees to sign noncompete agreements. While this is an acceptable practice in Virginia, there are rules around how burdensome and broad companies can make these agreements.

If your noncompete agreement seems unfair to the point that it harms your ability to make a living or it extends beyond the reasonable bounds of protecting the interests of your employer, then it may be unenforceable.

What Rights Do Employees Have?

First, if you have not signed a noncompete agreement with your employer, you are free to compete with your former employer once you end your employment. This rule changes if your employer had you sign a noncompete agreement as a condition of employment.

Virginia law limits how restrictive these agreements can be, and even after signing you retain the right to be able to earn a living. The legal expectation is that noncompete agreements are to be narrowly drawn to specifically protect reasonable business interests.

This means that agreements that are overly restrictive cover business interests beyond areas that the business works in, or that simply makes it nearly impossible for a former employee to pursue their career, may not be enforceable.

What Can Happen if I Break a Noncompete Agreement?

Ideally, you would have a lawyer review the document before you sign a non-compete agreement. Similarly, if you have recently ended your employment and have questions about an agreement you previously signed, you should consult with an attorney to understand to what degree it is enforceable.

If a former employer does challenge you, they will need to be able to prove that you actually engaged in prohibited actions, that you did so within the time and locations covered by the agreement, and that the agreement itself is reasonable. This can be challenging for an employer to prove (though certainly not impossible), and companies have successfully acted against former employees in breach of a noncompete agreement.

Answered 10/23/2017

Disclaimer: This answer was provided by an attorney selected to Super Lawyers, and is intended to be an educated opinion only. This answer should not be relied upon as legal advice, nor construed as a form of attorney-client relationship.

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