Is 10 miles a reasonable non-compete geographic restriction? If you are a veterinary associate and you are an employee or have potentially been bought out by these enormous veterinary conglomerates gobbling up all the veterinarian-owned practices lately, you are likely going to have non-compete in your contract. A non-compete simply says you cannot work within your specialty for a set period within a certain geographic radius from where you work. Let’s kind of break down the elements of that. One, non-competes are enforceable in nearly every state. There are a handful of states where they are completely unenforceable. However, you should go into signing the contract, assuming it’s going to be enforceable.
I find that most providers, for some reason, think that all non-competes are completely unenforceable, and yes, maybe if it’s unreasonable, but most states find that a reasonable non-compete would be considered enforceable. The first thing you need to identify is whether your state recognizes non-competes for providers or not. Okay, let’s just assume, yes, you’re in a state where it’s enforceable. The non-compete is going to state you cannot practice in your specialty. You want to make sure if you’re specialist and you do have multiple options that are specific to the task that you’re doing for that employer. Now, if you’re a general vet and it says you cannot act as a general veterinarian, okay. But maybe if you’re in emergency medicine or urgent care or an animal hospital or something like that, keep it specific to what you are doing.
And then it will be for somewhere between one to two years. You obviously want to keep it less. One year would be considered reasonable pretty much anywhere. Sometimes, they’ll try to push it out to two, sometimes three years. I do not think three is a reasonable amount. So, you would want to keep it down to one year at most. And then finally, what we’re focusing on today is the geographic restriction. So, is 10 miles of reasonable non-compete geographic restriction? I would say, yes, it is. Now, the setting is important. If you’re in an urban environment, 10 miles can knock out hundreds of opportunities. Whereas if you’re in a rural environment, there may be no other place to compete against within 10 miles. Other blogs of interest include:
Depending upon where you are, if you’re in a bigger city and there are dozens to hundreds of different practices, you may be able to work after the contract terminates, then a smaller radius would be considered more reasonable. Now, there will be employers that try to really push the limits of the geographic restriction and they’ll do it in several ways. One, they could just really try to stretch out the mileage 30, 50 miles from your practice location. That would not be considered reasonable in most places. Two, if they are a vet clinic that has multiple locations within a city, they may say it attaches to every location that they own. If you’re not working at those other locations, it is not fair if that is included in your non-compete. You want to get that removed and limit it to the places that you just work.
Now, what if you work at multiple locations? Well, one or two locations, okay, it could attach to both of those, but an employer may try to be sneaky, and it states any place you’ve worked over the last 12 months it attaches to, and maybe they have four or five locations. And so, they might just try to place you at one location one day per year to attach the non-compete to that. You need to make certain that they are not allowed to do that. And the easiest way to do that is just to state in the contract that if there are any locations that the employer wants you to work at beyond whatever the initial location was, there must be a mutual agreement. When is the right time to negotiate a non-compete? Obviously, before you sign the contract. You have no leverage after the fact if you sign an agreement and then come back to the employer.
So, you want to make certain that they understand that for whatever reason, the non-compete is not going to work for you. For people that live in a city, they have kids that go to school, they might have family in the area, and they absolutely cannot move after the contract is terminated, this could be the biggest problem with any kind of employment contract. Well, there are others who just move to a city for a specific job and absolutely do not care because they don’t plan on staying there if the job doesn’t work out. You need to prioritize what’s most important to you, but the non-compete, certainly for a lot of my clients, is the number one thing. And you need to make it clear to the employer. Look, I’m not going to accept this the way it’s written. If you want me to work for you, we’re going to have to come to compromise and some will say, okay, and then others will say, no, take it or leave it. And then it’s up to you to decide whether it’s something you want to leave or not. So, is 10 miles a reasonable non-compete for a vet? For the most part, yes, it would be considered reasonable, but you must take into account all the other factors I just talked about.
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