Evaluating the enforceability of a non-compete agreement under Massachusetts law involves an inherent degree of uncertainty. This is because courts use subjective standards to determine whether to enforce a non-compete agreement based on whether it is: (1) reasonable in scope, length of time, and geographic area; (2) protective of a legitimate interest of the employer; and (3) supported by adequate consideration. Thus, enforceability depends on the facts of a particular case. Employers can increase the likelihood that a non-compete agreement will be enforced as written by tailoring non-compete agreements based on the guidance of past court decisions. To that end, non-compete agreements should be limited to a duration of no more than 1-2 years. The geographic scope of a non-compete agreement should be limited to the area actually served by the employer or where the employer has specific plans to expand. Non-compete agreements should also be presented to employees before hiring. If the employee is already employed, employers should include some form of additional consideration, such as a raise or one time payment, for added certainty that a non-compete agreement will be enforced as written.
Hiring qualified employees that are the right fit for a company is one of the hardest and most important jobs for employers. A bad hire is not only a waste of time and money, but also causes morale problems and the risk of a wrongful termination claim if the employee is terminated. Because it is impossible to have a perfect hiring record--particularly when a company is growing quickly and is hiring many new employees--employers often ask whether it makes sense to have a probationary period for new hires.
There are many anti-discrimination statutes aimed at protecting employees, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 under federal law and the anti-discrimination provisions of Chapter 151B of the Massachusetts General Laws to name a few. While understanding the nuances and the interplay between federal and state laws can pose challenges, the intention behind these laws is something that all well-meaning employers support. Nevertheless, situations can arise when even the most well-meaning employer may find compliance with the law and the behavior required to avoid a lawsuit both counterintuitive and difficult. One particularly dangerous area for employers can be found in the anti-retaliation language contained in many employment discrimination statutes. This is because employers too often react negatively to the assertion of a claim and consequently turn a weak discrimination case into a strong retaliation claim.