Business Owners Beware, Make Sure Your Employment Agreements are Clearly Written and Reasonable
Every business has employees, and as business litigators, the attorneys at DiTommaso-Lubin pride ourselves on being knowledgeable about all the areas of law that affect our clients, including employment laws. Our Orland Park business attorneys recently discovered a case that has an impact on companies who utilize employment non-competition agreements with their employees.
Reliable Fire Equipment Company v. Arredondo pits an employer against two former employees, Defendants Arredondo and Garcia, who worked as fire alarm system salesmen for Plaintiff. Each Defendant signed an employment agreement where Defendant's would allegedly earn commissions of varying percentages of the gross profits on items or systems sold. After working for Plaintiff for several years, Defendants created Defendant High Rise Security Systems, LLC., which was allegedly a competitor to Plaintiff's business. Plaintiff eventually became aware that Defendants were starting an alleged competitor company, and asked Defendants if in fact they had created a fire alarm business. Defendant Arredondo allegedly denied that he was starting such a business, and resigned shortly afterward, with Defendant Garcia tendering his resignation two weeks after Arredondo.
Plaintiff then filed suit alleging breach of the duty of fidelity and loyalty, conspiracy to compete against Plaintiff and misappropriation of confidential information, tortious interference of prospective economic advantage, breach of the employment agreements, and unjust enrichment. The trial court held that the employment agreements were unenforceable because of unreasonable geographic and solicitation restrictions and the fact that language of the agreements was unclear. A trial on the issues unrelated to the employment agreement ensued, and Defendants successfully moved for a directed verdict because there was insufficient evidence that Defendants competed with Plaintiffs prior to Arredondo's resignation.
Plaintiff then appealed the trial court's ruling that the employment agreements in question were unenforceable and the directed jury verdict. The Appellate Court affirmed the trial court's directed verdict, stating that the lower court had properly weighed the evidence in finding a total lack of competent evidence. The Court then analyzed the restrictive covenants under the legitimate business interest test and found that the geographic restrictions were not reasonable and therefore the trial court did not err in ruling that the restrictive covenants were unenforceable.
Reliable Fire Equipment Company v. Arredondo illustrates why it is so important for business owners to keep an eye on their employees, and serves as a warning for companies wanting to sue former employees based upon non-competition agreements. Furthermore, the case shows that courts frown upon the use of vague language in such agreements, and it is always in your best interests to keep the terms of employment agreements reasonable.
DiTommaso-Lubin has a team of attorneys who focus on business litigation lawsuits and who have successfully handled many "bet the business" disputes. We also handle covenant not to compete and trade secret case. Our Elgin business lawyers are intimately familiar with the complex issues that arise during business litigation, and we know the laws that govern such cases well. Our Chicago non-compete agreement attorneys are dedicated to giving you efficient and dynamic representation. If your business is being sued or you are seeking advice to keep you out of court, contact us by phone at 1 (877) 990-4990, or through our online form.