Can I Void a Non-Compete Agreement in New York?

voiding a non-compete agreement in New York

A non-compete agreement might seem like a trivial work request when you sign it, but the terms of that agreement can severely limit your ability to make a living after you separate from your employment.

So what happens if you signed a non-compete agreement that has eliminated your job prospects?

There are ways around a non-compete agreement, but you need to know what to look for in the agreement terms and characteristics of your old job. 

How Does a Non-Compete Work?

A business might maintain a competitive edge by offering a superior product, offering better prices, keeping business and product formulas a secret, or preventing its employees from working for a competitor.

Non-compete agreements keep former employees from directly competing with a business by barring them from doing certain work for competing businesses or in certain geographical areas. 

When you apply for a new job, your prospective employer might ask you if you’re subject to any non-compete agreements.

If a prospective employer believes that non-compete terms make hiring you too risky, you could lose a job opportunity.

Also, a former employer could sue you for breaking a non-compete agreement. If you lose at trial, you might lose your new job and have to pay damages.

Breaking a non-compete agreement can be painful, so it’s important to know your options for voiding a non-compete contract before you sign one and before you apply for a new job. 

How Do I Get Out of a Non-Compete Agreement?

The first step to voiding a non-compete contract is understanding when a non-compete agreement is enforceable in New York.

To help prevent employee abuse, the State of New York requires that non-compete contracts adhere to the following guidelines:

  • Their terms must be necessary to protect the employer’s legitimate interests,
  • Their terms can’t impose an undue hardship on the employee,
  • Their terms can’t harm the public, and 
  • The time period and geographic scope they cover must be reasonable.

If a non-compete agreement doesn’t comply with these guidelines, it’s unenforceable as written. A court might rewrite an unenforceable agreement or throw the whole agreement out altogether.  

You Can Void a Non-Compete by Proving Its Terms Aren’t Necessary

Many employers use non-compete agreements to prevent skilled employees with company secrets from taking their skills and secrets to competitors.

If your work with your former employer didn’t require specialized skills or didn’t give you access to confidential business information, a court might deem the contract terms unnecessary and free you from restrictions on your job search.

If you want to void a non-compete agreement, you should be clear about your former job obligations and the tools you needed to fulfill them. 

You Can Void a Non-Compete by Proving How Severely Its Terms Would Affect You

The inability to make a living could be an “undue hardship” that renders a non-compete unenforceable. Think about your job skills and the specific terms of the non-compete agreement you signed.

If the terms of the agreement make it almost impossible for someone with your skills to find a new job, you might be able to void the agreement.

But be aware that the inability to make the same wages or work the same exact job isn’t always an undue hardship. 

You Can Void a Non-Compete by Proving Your Job Skills Are Rare and Necessary for Public Health

If the job you perform helps the public in a significant way (e.g., healthcare, environmental protection, etc.) and there aren’t many people in your area who can do your job, non-compete agreement terms that prevent you from working might create unenforceable harm to the public.

You Can Void a Non-Compete by Proving Its Terms Go Too Far or Last Too Long

Whether a non-compete is unenforceable because it covers too large of a geographical area or it lasts too long can depend on many factors. Enforceability can depend on your industry, skills, location, etc.

An experienced employment attorney can determine what non-compete terms aren’t reasonable in your case. 

Seek Attorney Help to Fight for Your Livelihood

At Ottinger Employment Lawyers, we are consistently successful and aggressive advocates for employees’ rights.

We have also experienced attorneys who value constant communication with our clients to help ensure we get what they need.

We want to help you thrive in the workplace. Give us a call at 866-234-3862 or contact us online

For details about our New York office, click here.

Author Photo

Robert Ottinger, Esq.

Robert Ottinger is an employment attorney who focuses on representing executives and employees in employment disputes. Before starting his firm, Robert slugged it out in courtrooms trying cases for the government. Robert served as a Deputy Attorney General for the California Department of Justice in Los Angeles and then as Assistant Attorney General for the New York Attorney General’s Office in Manhattan.

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