What is a restraint of trade?

Post engagement restrictions

Often, employment contracts and contractor agreements contain restrictive covenants or ‘restraints of trade’ to protect businesses when an employee or service provider / contractor leaves.

So, what is a restraint of trade? A restraint of trade is effectively a restriction on the employee or contractor as to where they may work and who they may work for during, and for an agreed period after the termination of, their engagement. Restraints often restrict an employee’s ability to work for competing businesses and within a certain geographical area for a specified period of time.

How far can they go?

A valid restraint should only restrict activities reasonably necessary to protect the legitimate interests of the business that has the benefit of it. Those legitimate interests may include clients, referral relationships, trade secrets, confidential information and the like.

A restraint clause that is too wide, and therefore too restrictive, is generally unenforceable. A restraint should be tailored to accurately reflect the nature of the business activities being protected and only go so far as to protect them, when looked at reasonably. Where restraints seek to protect more than is reasonably necessary to protect the business, they can be struck down. There are public policy considerations in not preventing competition. Restraints are read strictly against the business that seeks to impose it.

Where there are no restraints in the employment or services agreement, there is no restraint and the business will only be able to rely upon their common law rights, which are often inadequate.

How are they enforced?

To enforce a restraint, the court requires that the party seeking to enforce it show that the restraint is reasonable – this will depend on the nature of the business, the restraint period, the restraint area and the nature of the work undertaken by the person or entity affected by it.

Often, enforcement takes the form of an injunction, seeking damages or an accounting for profits.

Further information

If you would like any more information in relation to employment law, disputes or business issues generally, please contact Craig Pryor on (02) 9521 2455 or email craig@mckilloplegal.com.au