Category: Employment Law

Will 2 Years of Continued Employment Be Enough in Illinois to Enforce a Non-Compete?

The Answer: It’s Complicated.

In 2013, an Illinois Appellate Court in Fifield v. Premier Dealer Services, Inc., decided that absent additional consideration, continued employment for less than 2 years after the restrictive covenant was signed, would not be sufficient to enforce a restrictive covenant. The Fifield decision was unusual because courts often do not consider the adequacy of the consideration ̶ only that there was consideration to support a contract. Often, the promise of continued employment was acceptable. This decision sent shock waves throughout Illinois and required employers to reevaluate the value they were giving employees when entering into restrictive covenants.

Since that decision, Illinois state courts have routinely followed Fifield and applied its bright line test in cases where there is no additional consideration given to the employee except continued employment.

For example:

• October 31, 2017 – Employee signed a restrictive covenant after working for his employer for nearly 12 years and also served on the company’s board of directors. He announced his resignation and left 6 months later. He was finally removed from the Board a year after signing the restrictive covenant. Upon leaving he started a new business that directly competed with his employer. The Court found that the restrictive covenant was not enforceable because he did not work for at least two years after signing the restrictive covenant.
• June 25, 2015 – Employee worked for employer for more than three years and left. After working for the new employer for one day, the employee asked to come back. As a condition of his return, the employer requested he sign a restrictive covenant. The employee quit 18-months later. The Court held that because he did not work at least two years after executing the restrictive there was not sufficient consideration to support the restrictive covenants.

Complicating matters, however, Federal Courts in Illinois have consistently rejected Fifield’s bright line test and adhered to a more comprehensive fact specific analysis. The Federal Court’s decisions believe that the Illinois Supreme Court would not adopt Fifield’s rigid and bright line test and continue to a support a “totality of the circumstances” review. As a result, it has led to decisions that are at odds with the State courts:

For example:

• October 20, 2017 – Employees left after 13-months of employment, took confidential information, and started working for a competitor. Employees argued that Fifield governed and therefore the restrictive covenants were not enforceable. The Court disagreed and rejected Fifield’s bright line test.

• July 24, 2017 – Employee left after working for employer for nearly ten years. He signed a restrictive covenant 16 months prior to leaving. The Court rejected Fifield’s bright line rule. The Court noted that “[f]ive federal courts in the Northern District of Illinois and one federal court in the Central District of Illinois have predicted that the Illinois Supreme Court will reject the Illinois appellate court’s bright-line rule in favor of a more fact-specific approach.”

What does this mean for employers?

Because all Illinois employers should expect that they will have to enforce these agreements in a state court, the Fifield holding must continue to be respected. Employers should review their restrictive covenants to ensure the agreements are carefully drafted to improve enforceability.

Levin Ginsburg has been working with employers for approximately 40 years to help them protect their businesses. If you have any employment or other business related issues, please contact us at 312-368-0100 or email Walker Lawrence at wlawrence@lgattorneys.com

Attention Employers and Employment Agencies: Criminal Records and Criminal Histories of Prospective Employees Off-Limits at Application Stage!

The Job Opportunities for Qualified Applicants Act (the “Act”), a new Illinois statute, will become effective January 1, 2015. The Act restricts employers and employment agencies from inquiring about or requiring the disclosure of an employment applicant’s criminal record or criminal history at the application stage, i.e., until the employer or employment agency has determined the applicant is qualified for the position and notified the applicant that he or she has been selected for an interview or, if there is not an interview, until after a conditional offer of employment is made to the applicant.

The Act defines an employer as any person or private entity that has 15 or more employees in the current or preceding year and employment agencies as any person or entity regularly undertaking, with or without compensation, to procure employees for an employer or to procure for employees opportunities to work for an employer.

The prohibition on inquiring into an applicant’s criminal record or criminal history at the application stage does not apply for positions where: (i) employers are required to exclude applicants with certain criminal convictions from employment due to federal or state law; (ii) a standard fidelity bond or an equivalent bond is required and an applicant’s conviction of one or more specified criminal offenses would disqualify the applicant from obtaining a bond; or (iii) employers employ individuals licensed under the Emergency Medical Services Systems Act.

Employers and employment agencies are allowed to notify applicants in writing of the specific offenses that will disqualify an applicant from employment in a particular position due to federal or state law, or the employer’s policy. Therefore, if an employer has a company policy which would disqualify an applicant from being hired based on specific offenses, the employer may notify applicants in writing of that fact.

Civil penalties that apply to employers or employment agencies that violate the Act range from a warning for the first violation to a civil penalty of up to $1,500 for every 30 days that passes without the employer’s or employment agency’s compliance with the Act.

In addition to the new rules under the Act, the ban against employers and employment agencies inquiring into or using an arrest record or expunged criminal history as a basis to refuse to hire remains in effect.

To review your business’ employment application and procedures or to review your business’ policies regarding specific offenses which may disqualify an applicant, or develop a notice letter to potential employees, please contact:

Morris R. Saunders at:

(312) 368-0100 / msaunders@lgattorneys.com

or

Mitchell S. Chaban at:

(312) 368-0100 / mchaban@lgattorneys.com

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