By Attorney Edward Jesson
In the employer/employee relationship, non-compete agreements get a lot of attention, but non-solicitation agreements should not be ignored. Non-solicitation agreements are agreements either to not to solicit a business’s customers or its employees. Employees could be asked to sign these agreements as well as other businesses. If the latter, courts will generally allow businesses to contract with one another how they see fit. However, courts closely scrutinize non-solicitation agreements that a business asks an employee to sign.
The purpose of a non-solicitation agreement is to ensure that a former employee cannot steal the employer’s customers or poach the employer’s current employees to go and work for a competitor. In order for a non-solicitation agreement to be enforceable, it must be: (1) in writing; (2) part of an employment contract; (3) based on valuable consideration; (4) reasonable as to time and territory; and, (5) designed to protect a legitimate business interest. These factors are very similar to what courts look at when evaluating non-compete agreements, but, generally in North Carolina, non-solicitation agreements are easier to enforce.
The “in writing” and “part of an employment contract” prongs are easy to satisfy. Furthermore, courts in North Carolina have routinely held that non-solicitation agreements protect a legitimate business interest. The “valuable consideration” and “reasonable as to time and territory” prongs are where people often get tripped up. Valuable consideration is generally the job itself (meaning the non-solicitation provision is included in the employment contract at the very beginning as a condition of taking the job) or it can be in the form of a raise after the fact.
Courts look at the time and geographic scope limitations in conjunction with each other. For example, a longer period may be permissible if the geographic coverage is small. Two years is generally held to be enforceable, though longer periods have been held enforceable under unique circumstances. As to geographic scope, courts will usually look to: (1) the area of restriction; (2) the area assigned to the employee; (3) the area where the employee actually worked; (4) the area in which the employer operated; (5) the nature of the business involved; and (6) the nature of the employee’s work duties and knowledge of the employer’s business operation. Additionally, courts in this state will only prohibit the former employee from soliciting customers with whom the employee had contact with or had intimate knowledge of during their former employment.
If a former employee violates the agreement, the business can seek an injunction (a court order prohibiting the employee from further breaches); compensatory damages (such as lost profits); and, in egregious situations, treble damages (three times the compensatory damages). Businesses may also write liquidated damages clauses into the contract that sets the amount of damages up front. However, these are also carefully scrutinized by the court so it is important to make sure that any liquidated damages provisions are properly drafted.
If you need assistance in drafting, reviewing, or enforcing a non-solicitation agreement that you believe an employee has breached, the attorneys at Jesson & Rains are available to assist.
DON’T BE EXPOSED ON DATA PRIVACY
By Tony Cline
In the United States, the only federal statute on the topic is the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (“COPPA”). COPPA is targeted at protecting children younger than 13-years-old from having their information collected, their activities tracked, and from being targeted in online advertising without parental consent. California was the first state to create its own data privacy law when the California Consumer Protection Act took effect in 2020. Colorado, Connecticut, Utah, and Virginia all have their own data privacy laws taking effect in 2023. These state statutes go beyond COPPA’s focus on children’s online data and extends protections to the data of all adults. These statutes variously enact restrictions on the collection of sensitive data, sharing of consumer data, and use of such data to profile consumers for advertising purposes. The laws also enshrine several shareholder rights, including the right to correct or erase the information collected, and they institute requirements on websites’ privacy policies.
Because it is likely that states will continue to legislate in this area, businesses can expect a complex regulatory environment if their websites collect consumer data. Consumer data includes information as simple as email or addresses. Violating the laws can lead to very high fines and other penalties. In order to make sure that your company is following all of the applicable laws on data privacy, contact Jesson & Rains PLLC and put our legal team to work for you.
By Tony Cline
We say this over and over again: everyone needs a will to direct who gets their property when they die and avoid the default inheritance laws of this state. But the truth is, for some people, dying without a will and having their assets go to their “intestate heirs” is okay by them. However, in a country where families are having fewer children, and people are making the decision to cohabitate without getting married, the number of people who will leave behind no intestate heirs will only increase in the future.
If you die without a will and with no intestate heirs, your assets will “escheat” to the state, meaning that all of your property, real, personal, and intangible, will become the property of the state of North Carolina.
If you have no intestate heirs and do not want the state to take your assets, you must have a will. Even a simple will can prevent escheat by naming the desired recipients for your property. Oftentimes, people without intestate heirs will choose a charity, which they prefer over the government. Even if you currently have intestate heirs, there is no guarantee they will survive you, so naming backup beneficiaries can help prevent escheat. If you need assistance with drafting a will, call Jesson & Rains PLLC for assistance.
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Kelly Rains Jesson