PROTECTING THE INTEGRITY OF REFERRAL SOURCES UNDER FLORIDA STATUTE s. 542.335

 

shutterstock_407527927Referral sources are generally important for all businesses.  Due to their importance, certain businesses require employees to execute non-solicitation or even non-compete agreements to protect the integrity of their referral sources.  Now, whether referral sources for a particular business constitutes a legitimate business interest (very important words) is a question where the context must be examined.  Nonetheless, in a case that is certainly important for businesses, the Florida Supreme Court held that referral sources can serve as a legitimate business interest.  While this case dealt with home health care companies, the rationale would be the same no matter the business, provided that referral sources are contextually a legitimate business interest for that business.   For more information on this case, please check here.  

 

The term “legitimate business interest” is a specific term used in Florida Statute s. 542.335, a statute I have discussed in other articles dealing with valid restraints on trade, such as restrictive covenants contained in non-compete or non-solicitation agreements.  These are the types of agreements that a business would require an employee to execute as a condition of employment to protect the integrity of referral sources. Again, the restrictive covenant language –such as language precluding the employee upon leaving from competing or utilizing referral sources–needs to actually serve a legitimate business interest based on the particular business’ strategies, relationships, and objectives.  

 

 

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

 

 

REFERRAL SOURCES CAN CONSTITUTE LEGITIMATE BUSINESS INTEREST TO SUPPORT NON-COMPETE AGREEMENT

imagesI previously discussed the validity of non-compete agreements as well as tips for drafting such agreements.

 

Recently, in Infinity Home Care, L.L.C. v. Amedisys Holding, LLC, 40 Fla.L.Weekly D1929a (Fla. 4th DCA 2015), the Fourth District Court of Appeal discussed the requirement of a “legitimate business interest” pursuant to Florida Statute s. 542.335, which governs the enforcement of non-compete agreements. Specifically, the court was looking at whether referral sources constitute a legitimate business interest.  The reason being is that there needs to be a legitimate business interest to enforce a restrictive covenant such as a non-compete agreement.  The statute gives examples of legitimate business interests (e.g., trade secrets, confidential business information that does not qualify as trade secrets, substantial relationships with specific prospective or existing customers, patients or clients, etc.) but is NOT limited to the criteria or examples set forth in the statute.  See Fla.Stat. 542.335(1)(b) (“the term ‘legitimate business interest’ includes, but is not limited to:…”).

 

As it pertains to what constitutes a legitimate business interest, the Fourth District held:

 

Section 542.335, however, clearly states that the legitimate business interests listed in the statute are not exclusive. This allows the court to examine the particular business plans, strategies, and relationships of a company in determining whether they qualify as a business interest worthy of protection.

 

 

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In sum, we hold that referral sources are a protectable legitimate business interest under section 542.335, Florida Statutes.

Infinity Home Care, supra.

 

If you are drafting or enforcing a non-compete agreement, it is important to consult with counsel.  This way your legitimate business interests can appropriately be protected as you move to enforce the non-compete agreement—the restrictive covenant—by moving for injunctive relief.  This case, however, supports the argument that the legitimate business is broader than the criteria and examples in the statute and based on the business’s “plans, strategies, and relationships.” 

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.