A person reads through their noncompete agreement to assess any legal implications.

Adobe Acrobat Sign

6 things to know about noncompete agreements.

Learn why companies use noncompetes and how to create your own.

Understanding noncomplete agreements

  • Under a noncompete agreement, you aren’t allowed to go to work for your current employer’s competitors.
  • Noncompete agreements are often used to protect a company’s trade secrets from rival businesses.
  • An unreasonably strict noncompete agreement can be challenged in court.

1. What is a noncompete agreement?

If you take a job in a highly competitive industry, your employer might ask you to sign a noncompetition agreement, or noncompete agreement, before you start your employment. A noncompete agreement prevents you from working for a competing business in the same field as your former employer for a set period of time. 

 

You may also be asked to sign a nonsolicitation agreement, which similarly blocks you from seeking out business from customers on your current employer’s client list.         

A photo of an employee sitting in an office reading a noncompete agreement on a computer.

2. How long do most noncompete agreements last?

On average, noncompete agreements stop former employees from taking a new job at a competing company for anywhere from six months to a year. However, in some high tech fields where employees have access to extremely sensitive information about new technologies, noncompete agreements can last as long as two years. 

3. How strict is a noncompete agreement?

Many workers’ rights organizations consider noncompete agreements to be restrictive covenants which limit employees’ ability to advance in their careers. In response, some states have begun to regulate the enforceability of noncompete agreements. For example, in California, North Dakota, and Oklahoma, state laws make noncompete agreements impossible to enforce.

 

Other states, like Oregon, Washington, and Illinois, have banned the use of noncompete clauses in employment contracts for workers earning less than a certain salary.

 

In 2021, President Joe Biden issued an executive order instructing the Federal Trade Commission to crack down on unfair use of noncompete agreements. Before you sign a noncompete agreement, seek legal advice from an employment attorney in your area to understand your responsibilities under the current law.

4. How do I get around a noncompete agreement?

Your employer can’t make you sign a noncompete agreement, but they can choose to not hire you if you refuse. If you do decide to sign, depending on the employment laws in your state, you can take your employer to court if you feel that the noncompete agreement is unreasonable.

A photo of an employee reading a noncompete agreement on a laptop.
A photo of a person reading a noncompetition agreement on their laptop.

5. What makes a noncompete agreement unreasonable?

Courts look at multiple factors to decide whether a noncompete agreement is enforceable or not:

 

  • Legitimate business interest. Will the employer’s business be harmed if your noncompete agreement is not enforced? If you’re a computer programmer going to work for a rival startup, maybe. If you’re a barista taking a better job at a different coffee shop, probably not.
  • Length. How long is the agreement in effect? A noncompete agreement with an unusually long time frame is more likely to be thrown out by the court.
  • Worker mobility. If the employee dies while employed, what compensation will be paid to the employee’s estate?
  • Compensation. Did your employer agree to pay you a higher salary or give you additional benefits in exchange for your signature? If they did, a court may decide that since you were compensated for signing the agreement, you must abide by it. 
A photo of an employee digitally signing a noncompete agreement on a laptop using the Adobe Acrobat Fill & Sign tool.

6. How to digitally sign a noncompete agreement — or create your own.

How employees can sign a noncompete without picking up a pen.

If you decide to sign your noncompete agreement, you can create an electronic signature and add it to the agreement using Acrobat’s free Fill & Sign tool. Just upload a PDF of the agreement, authenticate your signature, and send it back to your employer straight from the app using the Share function.

How employers can protect their trade secrets with a noncompete agreement.

It’s easy to build your own noncompete agreement with the help of the right app. Whether you create your own template or find one online, you can use Adobe’s e-signature tools to collaboratively write up the terms of the agreement, then save it for future use.

 

When your agreement is ready, you can send it to your employees directly from the app as a personalized, ready-to-sign document in a single click. And the document tracking functions in Acrobat Sign help you know which employees have signed their agreements and which ones need a reminder notification.

 

With Acrobat Sign, it’s simple to sign and store important documents for your career and business.

DISCLAIMER: This article is for informational purposes only. Adobe does not and cannot provide legal, financial, accounting or other related professional advice. Laws and regulations change frequently. You should consult an attorney, accountant or other appropriate professional advisor regarding questions specific to your situation. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Adobe provides this material on an “as is” basis. Adobe disclaims and makes no representation or warranty of any kind with respect to this material, express, implied or statutory, including representations, guarantees or warranties of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, or accuracy.

Acrobat logo

Do more with Adobe Acrobat Pro.