Is My Employee Non-Compete Legal?

Employee non-compete agreements have long been a contentious issue in many states, with some arguing that they protect businesses’ intellectual property and prevent employees from sharing trade secrets, while others argue that they limit an employee’s ability to work in their chosen field and stifle competition. In California, however, the enforceability of employee non-compete agreements is heavily restricted.

Non-Compete Agreements in California

Under California law, non-compete agreements are generally unenforceable. The state’s Business and Professions Code specifically prohibits agreements that restrain individuals from engaging in lawful professions, trades, or businesses of any kind. This means that, with few exceptions, employers cannot prevent their employees from working for a competitor after they leave the company.

Exceptions to the Rule

As one example of a limited exception, non-compete agreements may be enforceable in California if they are necessary to protect trade secrets or other confidential information. However, in order for such agreements to be enforceable, they must be narrowly tailored to protect only the company’s legitimate business interests, and they must not place undue burdens on the employee’s ability to find work.

Another exception to the general rule against non-compete agreements in California is for business owners who sell their businesses. In such cases, the buyer may require the seller to sign a non-compete agreement as a condition of the sale. However, even in these cases, the non-compete agreement must be reasonable in scope and duration.

It is worth noting that while non-compete agreements may be unenforceable in California, employers can still use other methods to protect their business interests. For example, they can use non-disclosure agreements to prevent employees from sharing confidential information with competitors. Employers can also include non-solicitation clauses in employment contracts, which prevent employees from soliciting the company’s clients or employees after they leave.


In summary, employee non-compete agreements are generally unenforceable in California, except in very limited circumstances. Employers must carefully tailor such agreements to protect only their legitimate business interests and cannot unduly burden employees’ ability to find work. It is important for both employers and employees to be aware of the restrictions on non-compete agreements in California and to seek legal advice if they have any questions or concerns.

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This material is provided for informational purposes only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor does it create a client-lawyer relationship between MNK Law and any recipient. Recipients should consult with counsel before taking any actions based on the information contained within this material.