The basic rule is that a non-compete covenant with an employee will not be enforced unless it is reasonable in duration and with respect to the geographic area it applies to. Otherwise, employees would be trapped in jobs, because they wouldn’t be able to work if they left the employer.
But a St. Louis judge’s order was reversed by the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Eastern District in Whelan Security Co. v. Kennebrew, even though the non-compete covenant did not define the geographic area where the former employee was prohibited from competing with his former employer.
The trial judge had granted summary judgment in the employee’s favor, after having reviewed the employment contract that prohibited Kennebrew from soliciting business from Whelan’s customers or going to work for Whelan’s competitors for 12 months after leaving Whelan. Within four months after separating from Whelan, Kennebrew successfully went after one of Whelan’s customers. The trial court concluded that Kennebrew’s employment agreement was invalid, because it was “overbroad” and “not reasonable as to time and space.”
The appellate court applied a different rule of law, stating:
a restrictive covenant without geographic limitations is not per se unreasonable if the prohibition is against the solicitation of the employer’s clients and customers.
The geographic scope of Kennebrew’s contract was essentially defined by the location of Whelan’s customers.
Non-compete agreements are recognized and limited by statute in Missouri. The statute, section 431.202 RSMo, creates a presumption that a one-year duration is reasonable, but allows an employer to prove that a longer period might be appropriate under the circumstances.