Under Florida law, where an employment contract expires by its terms and the parties continue to perform as before, an implication arises that they have mutually assented to a new contract containing the same provisions as the old.
But this principle does not apply to non-competes and other restrictive covenants contained in employment contracts, as illustrated by a recent decision by the Third District Court of Appeal, Zupnik v. All Florida Paper, Inc., Case No. 3D08-1371 (Fla. 3d DCA, Dec. 31, 2008).
Zupnik had signed a two-year employment contract with All-Florida. The contract provided that "during the Employment Term and within twelve (12) months from the termination of said term, he or she will not directly or indirectly … compete against ALL FLORIDA, within a fifty (50) mile radius of where ALL FLORIDA then engages in business[.]" The contract further provided that "[a]t the expiration of this two (2) year contract, the employee can exercise an option to remain in ALL FLORIDA’S employ as an at-will employee." But the contract did not contain language specifying that the restrictive covenants would continue beyond the two-year term if Zupnik remained an at-will employee after the two-year term expired.
After the expiration of the initial two-year term, Zupnik remained an All Florida employee for an additional two years, but the relationship was not formalized in a written document. Zupnik then formed his own company intending to serve his long-standing customers. All-Florida sued Zupnik and the trial court entered an injunction enforcing the non-competition covenant. The Third DCA reversed. Citing its decision in Sanz v. R.T. Aerospace Corp., 650 So. 2d 1057 (Fla. 3d DCA 1995), the court held that "post-termination restrictions expire upon the termination of an agreement for a specific term, even if an employee remains an at-will employee after the term of the written agreement expires."
For employers, the Zupnik case highlights the importance of drafting non-competes and other restrictive covenants carefully. Where an employment contract is for a specified term (e.g., two years), employers should include language in the contract which provides that the restrictive covenants contained in the contract continue beyond the specified term if the employee remains an at-will employee after the term has expired.