By: Shannon Patterson, CPR, CMSR
Kolbe Certified™ Consultant
Director of Practice Opportunities
As a recruiter, I often hear the question “What is the difference between a non-disclosure and non-compete?” from candidates who are seeking employment opportunities. It is important to understand the differences and what they mean for you as a candidate.
A non-disclosure agreement is a promise that you will not disclose any of the information shared with you about a potential practice opportunity. Often it will include practice and/or doctor name, location, patient information, expansion plans or any financial information about the practice. It does not mean you can’t work for a competitor; it simply means you can’t use proprietary or confidential information you learned or obtained from the practice with another practice. You will often be asked to sign this agreement by a client or representative of a client before they discuss the specifics about their practice opportunity. Importantly, non-disclosure agreements almost universally allow you to share confidential information with your attorney or other advisors in the buying process.
A non-competition (restrictive covenant) agreement means you agree not to directly compete or provide services within a certain proximity of the practice for a set period of time. The purpose of a non-compete is to protect the former practice employer against unfair competition. As a provider, you will have access to confidential business information and develop close relationships with patients and staff and could exploit the information to lure patients away from the practice. A non-compete is designed to protect the practice from this risk.
Who enforces a non-compete? The enforceability of non-compete agreements will vary from state to state. Most states have statutes or case law that either prevents or restricts the enforceability of a non-compete agreement. States that permit the enforcement of non-competes will do so only if the covenant is reasonable in scope (meaning it is limited to the services the provider actually rendered while employed by the practice), duration and geographical area.
What geographic area does a non-compete cover? A non-compete covenant should only prohibit a provider from continuing to provide services in the same general area where he or she provided services before disengaging with a previous practice. In most states, the restricted area should be no larger than the area from which the previous practice draws 80% of its patients. Therefore, a reasonable radius for a non-compete will depend heavily on the population density of a particular area – generally, a larger radius is enforceable in rural areas. The opposite is true in more urban areas.
How long do non-competes typically last? The time periods can vary, but generally, the covenants are in effect during the employment period and for a period of 12 to 24 months following the last day services are provided to the practice.
Non-competes and non-disclosure agreements are two important documents to understand each having a distinct but separate purpose.