Florida’s Law of Restrictive Covenants Re: Non-Solicitation of Customers by a Former Employee Violates New York Public Policy by Favoring Employers at the Expense of Employees
The Court of Appeals, in a full-fledged opinion by Judge Stein, determined the Florida law on restrictive covenants re: non-solicitation of customers by a former employee violated the public policy of New York State. Therefore the choice-of-law provision in the employee agreement was unenforceable. The Court of Appeals went on to find that, applying New York law, questions of fact precluded a determination whether the non-solicitation agreement at issue should be enforced. With respect to the public policy violation, the court explained:
… Florida law requires a party seeking to enforce a restrictive covenant only to make a prima facie showing that the restraint is necessary to protect a legitimate business interest, at which point the burden shifts to the other party to show that the restraint is overbroad or unnecessary (see Fla Stat § 542.335  [c]). If the latter showing is made, the court is required to “modify the restraint and grant only the relief reasonably necessary to protect” the employer's legitimate business interests (Fla Stat § 542.335  [c]). In contrast to this focus solely on the employer's business interests, under New York's three-prong test, “[a] restraint is reasonable only if it: (1) is no greater than is required for the protection of the legitimate interest of the employer, (2) does not impose undue hardship on the employee, and (3) is not injurious to the public. A violation of any prong renders the covenant invalid” … . Whereas Florida shifts the burden of proof after the employer demonstrates its business interests (see Fla Stat § 542.335  [c]), New York requires the employer to prove all three prongs of its test before the burden shifts … . Further, Florida law explicitly prohibits courts from considering the harm or hardship to the former employee (see Fla Stat § 542.335  [g] ). This directly conflicts with New York's requirement that courts consider, as one of three mandatory factors, whether the restraint “impose[s] undue hardship on the employee” … .
Additionally, under Florida law, courts are required to construe restrictive covenants in favor of protecting the employer's interests, and may not use any rules of contract interpretation that would require the construction of a restrictive covenant narrowly or against the restraint or drafter (see Fla Stat § 542.335  [h]). In contrast, New York law provides that “[c]ovenants not to compete should be strictly construed because of the 'powerful considerations of public policy which militate against sanctioning the loss of a [person's] livelihood'” … . Brown & Brown, Inc. v Johnson, 2015 NY Slip Op 04876, CtApp 6-11-15