In an eagerly awaited decision, the Supreme Court gave its judgment on the meaning of wording commonly used in non-compete post-termination restrictions and the possibility of severing such wording where it would otherwise render such a restriction unenforceable.

Background

Ms Tillman was the Joint Global Head of Financial Services of executive search and recruitment firm Egon Zehnder at the time she left its employment. Her employment contract included a noncompete post-termination restriction of six months’ duration. This noncompete post-termination restriction provided that Ms Tillman would not “directly or indirectly engage or be concerned or interested in any business carried on in competition with any of the businesses” of Egon Zehnder with which she had been materially concerned in the period of 12 months prior to her employment ending. This restriction became contentious and the subject of substantial litigation when Ms Tillman made known her intention to work for a competitor in apparent breach of the non-compete restriction.

Egon Zehnder brought proceedings to enforce the non-competition covenant and successfully obtained an injunction against Ms Tillman. Ms Tillman appealed this decision, arguing, among other things, that the covenant was void on the basis that it was too widely drafted. In particular, Ms Tillman argued that the use of the words “interested in” prevented her from holding even a minority shareholding in a competitor and the restriction was therefore void as an unenforceable restraint of trade. The Court of Appeal agreed and set aside the injunction. Egon Zehnder then appealed to the Supreme Court.

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