Restrictive Covenant Fails in Part Because of a Too Broad Definition of Customer :

In Labrador Recycling v Folino ( 2120 ONSC 2195) Akbarali J. commented on the a restrictive covenant clause in the metal industry. In finding that one clause in particular was unreasonable , the Judge stated as follows:

It purports to prohibit Mr. Folino from soliciting and accepting business from any of the plaintiff’s current or prospective customers. It defines a “current or prospective customer of the company” as “an individual or entity with which [Mr. Folino] personally had direct or indirect contact, or access to conduct confidential information about, during the last two years of [his employment].” Notably, the definition of customer or potential customer of the company includes no relationship between the customer or potential customer and the plaintiff. For example, it does not say that a customer or potential customer is someone with whom Mr. Folino had contact in connection with his employment duties. The only limitation on who is customer or potential customer when it comes to someone with whom Mr. Folino had contact is that the contact take place within the last two years of his employment. As drafted, his drycleaner would qualify.

I love that comment. But there was more. Here the Judge lists in clear terms why this clause is unenforceable :

[25]In my view, the plaintiff has not established a strong prima faciecase that the clause is reasonable:

a.Given the evidence that deals come together in the aluminum scrap industry within hours, a one-year temporal limit is unreasonably long. The plaintiffagrees the point of a non-solicitation or non-competition period is to allow the employer to  solidify its relationships with its customers after the departure of the employee. Here, the plaintiff will have frequent contact with its vendors and purchasers due to the nature of the industry and so would not require a year to solidify any relationships that require solidifying.

b.There is no geographic limit set out in the clause. On its own, in a non-solicitation clause, no geographic limit may be reasonable if the customers are reasonably defined and identifiable. In this case, the definition current or prospective customers that the restrictive covenant purports to preventMr. Folino from accepting work from casts a very broad net and is imprecise.

c.The terms ofthe clause are not clear and unambiguous.For example, the clause restricts Mr. Folino from accepting work from a person he may never have had contact with but in respect of whom he had access to confidential information.It is not clear how he would identify such people.The clause also purports to restrictMr. Folino from soliciting or accepting work from someone with whom hehas hadindirect contact over the past two years. It is not clear what“indirect contact”means.

d.Moreover, in prohibiting Mr. Folino from soliciting or accepting work from anyone with whom he personally had direct contact during the last two years of his employment, the clause purports to restrict him from accepting work from his personal contacts who may have had nothing to do with the plaintiff at any time.The plaintiff says this is ridiculous but asI have noted, the definition in the agreement of customer or potential customer of the company does link that person in any way to the company or Mr. Folino’s employment duties.

My Comments:

In the olden days when I was a litigating lawyer, if I represented a client who was faced with one of these clauses, I would have the client send a letter to his former employer as follows:

” Dear Sir:

In your recent letter you reminded me that under the terms of my employment contract I am to have no contact with any of the Company’s customers for 12 months following my departure. Without admitting the enforceability of such a provision, I want to make sure that I do not breach this provision. I would therefore appreciate it if you could send me a complete list of all of the Company’s customers so that I may know exactly whom I may and whom I may not approach in the next 12 months . ”

Of course the former employer would refuse to give this information and therefore my client would approach whoever he or she wanted.

Another thing to remember, since injunctive relief is an equitable concept, the person requesting the injunction must come to Court with ” clean hands”.

If the ex-employee was terminated, then he or she presumably has a wrongful dismissal action against the ex employer seeking the relief. It seems clear that an employer who has breached their obligation to provide reasonable notice of termination does not come with ” clean hands “.

Third point. There is case law to say that the existence of a clause like this has an effect on the notice period. The reason for this is that if the purpose of the notice period is to allow the plaintiff to find employment in their chosen field , then disallowing a person from going after some or all  jobs in his or her chosen field, means that  they will need more time to get such a job.  Thus the notice period should be extended to take into account this additional barrier to employment.

Interestingly, the contracts with the longest non compete or non solicitation periods also tend to have the shortest notice periods for termination.