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Non-compete agreements and health professionals

Non-compete agreements have become more widely used in health care and other professions. Special attention should apply to the terms of these agreements when negotiating employment contracts for medical professionals.

Non-compete agreements may be enforced in Pennsylvania. These agreements are intended to prevent a doctor from taking their former patients, confidential information or intellectual property when they leave a practice. Practitioners are often surprised about their restrictions and their enforcement when they try to change employment.

A restrictive covenant may also restrict an employee from seeking employment within a certain geographic radius. Time restrictions governing other employment may last from six months to five years. Pennsylvania courts will usually enforce these agreements unless they are unreasonable. Agreements are generally enforceable if they are related to the employment relationship, are reasonably necessary to protect an employer's legitimate interest and its duration and geographic scope are fair.

Geographic restrictions may be too restrictive if they apply to all satellite locations, urgent centers and facilities owned by the employer even within a small geographic radius because large health centers may own or have a financial interest in numerous facilities. Professionals in rural areas and in specialized practices may have a better chance of overcoming these covenants in court.

Practitioners should determine whether non-compete agreements apply if they are terminated from employment. They can also limit the reach of these agreements by allowing them to practice in other specialties and reducing their geographic radius and time restriction.

However, bear in mind that employers may seek uniformity. They may hesitate to have agreements with different time periods and geographic restrictions for different members of their practice.

An attorney can help advise on non-compete agreements and other terms in an employment contract. This may help ensure that a practitioner's legal rights are protected and their career interests are furthered.

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