A written contract such as a “non-compete,” “non-competition agreement,” or “covenant not to compete” is often executed at the beginning of an employer-employee relationship. Your employer may attempt to prohibit you from going to work for their competitors when you leave their company. These agreements tend to use strong legal language designed to restrict employees and provide a disincentive for you to stay with the company. North Carolina courts have held that these agreements can be unenforceable if they are meant to restrict trade rather than to protect a legitimate business interest. Additionally, if an employer asks you to sign a non-compete agreement at some point after you have become employed, it must offer something more than the promise of continued employment in order for the agreement to be enforceable.
If you are subject to a non-compete that remains in force after you leave your job, you should consult an attorney to find out if your contract is valid and legally binding. The enforceability of non-compete clauses in North Carolina tends to be narrow in scope. Your employer may be able to prohibit you from going to work for another company that directly competes in the same market for a period of one or two years, within a reasonable geographical scope, especially if you were privy to trade secrets or intellectual property during your employment.
Often, because of the highly fact specific nature of this issue, your attorney can negotiate a cancellation or mitigation of the non-compete agreement as part of a separation agreement with your former employer.