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By: DeMaris E. Trapp
The Pennsylvania Superior Court recently reaffirmed Pennsylvania’s longstanding position that employers must provide valuable consideration to employees who enter into noncompete agreements. In a case of first impression, the court held that a statement in a noncompete agreement with an existing employee that the parties “intend to be legally bound,” as set forth in the Uniform Written Obligations Act (“UWOA”), does not constitute adequate consideration.
In Socko v. Mid-Atlantic Systems of CPA, Inc., the employer argued that its noncompete agreement with a former employee was enforceable because the agreement expressly stated that the parties “intend to be legally bound.” The former employee entered into the agreement after he began working for Mid-Atlantic Systems of CPA, and he did not receive any benefit or change in job status in exchange for signing the noncompete. The employer argued that the language itself sufficed to enforce the agreement because Section 6 of Pennsylvania’s UWOA prevents the avoidance of a written agreement for lack of consideration if the agreement contains an express statement that the signer intends to be legally bound.
The court rejected the employer’s argument, pointing to Pennsylvania’s established view of restrictive covenants as a disfavored restraint of trade and significant hardship on bound employees. Accordingly, Pennsylvania courts have long held that noncompete agreements must be supported by valuable consideration, even though other types of contracts may be upheld by continuation of at-will employment, contracts under seal, or nominal consideration.
Employers seeking to enforce noncompete agreements in Pennsylvania are now on notice that language stating that “the parties intend to be legally bound” will not relieve them of the requirement to provide actual and valuable consideration to employees in exchange for execution of the agreement. If an employee signs the agreement at the start of employment, then the consideration is the job itself. When the employment relationship already exists, however, employers must provide consideration in the form of benefits—such as raises or bonuses—or a change in job status, i.e., a promotion.