Non-compete agreements are common in many industries. Employers want to protect themselves against the possibility of an employee using the knowledge and contacts gained through the company in order to compete.
Florida law includes a general provision stating that non-compete agreements are enforceable. That said, the law, as well as subsequent interpretations by Florida courts, do impose limits on the type and scope of agreements that are enforcable.
Healthcare non-competes present additional challenges
Physicians dealing with non-competes can face additional complexities when trying to understand the scope of the agreement. As the answers can vary greatly according to the specific facts of each case, be sure to discuss your situation with a knowledgeable attorney.
Basic rules for non-compete agreements
Generally, an agreement must serve a legitimate business purpose. This means that preventing an employee from pursuing certain activities should actually protect the company's interests. Typical agreements often prevent employees from using or disclosing proprietary information, such as trade secrets, specific training or client lists.
Courts will usually also consider whether the agreement is reasonable in terms of time limit, geographic area and type of business. Whether a particular agreement's terms are reasonable can depend on the specifics of the occupation involved and other relevant facts.
Medical non-compete agreements
In the case of a physician, countervailing considerations may exist; notably, courts may deliberate as to whether a particular agreement prevents a doctor from practicing medicine at all or interferes unduly with physician-patient relationships.
Thus, a Florida court is less likely to enforce an agreement that states a physician may not practice his or her specialty and may be more likely to enforce one that prohibits operating a directly competing practice. Courts may also be less willing to enforce a strict limitation that would prevent a physician from providing necessary services in a medically underserved area.
A physician may deal with a non-compete agreement in the context of employment or in a joint-venture type of setting. It is important to understand from the beginning what exactly the agreement's terms prevent you from doing. Further, the same non-compete terms can have vastly different practical effects depending on the physician's specialty.