Non-solicitation Clauses: What They Mean for Your Startup

Non-solicitation clauses are often included in employment contracts or other agreements at startups to protect the company’s interests. These clauses prevent employees from soliciting or poaching other employees or clients when they leave the company. Non-solicitation clauses can be especially important in the startup world, where relationships and networks can be critical to success.

Startups often operate in highly competitive industries where talent is scarce. Losing key employees or clients to a competitor can be devastating for a young company trying to establish itself in the market. Non-solicitation clauses help to mitigate this risk by preventing departing employees from taking valuable business connections with them.

Furthermore, investors may require startups to include non-solicitation clauses in their agreements as a condition of funding. Investors want to see that the companies they invest in are taking steps to protect their assets and ensure their long-term viability. Non-solicitation clauses can give investors greater confidence that their investment is secure.

However, overly restrictive non-solicitation clauses can also hinder a startup’s growth by making it difficult for employees to move on and find new opportunities within their industry. Startups looking to attract and retain top talent must find the right balance between protecting their interests and allowing for employee mobility.

Non-solicitation Clauses Versus Non-Compete Clauses

Non-solicitation clauses and non-compete clauses are two types of restrictive covenants that employers may include in their employment agreements or contracts. These clauses serve different purposes.

Non-solicitation clauses prevent departing employees from soliciting or poaching clients or employees from their former employer. On the other hand, non-compete clauses prohibit employees from working for a competitor or starting a competing business for a set period after leaving their current employer.

Non-solicitation clauses are generally considered less restrictive than non-compete clauses because they allow employees to continue working in their industry but limit their ability to take valuable business connections with them to a new job. In contrast, non-compete clauses can severely limit an employee’s career options and potentially harm their livelihood.

Startups must carefully consider whether to include either type of clause in their agreements and ensure that they strike the right balance between protecting their interests and allowing for employee mobility.

Best Practices for Drafting a Fair Non-solicitation Clause

When drafting a non-solicitation clause, it’s important to strike a balance between protecting the company’s interests and allowing employees the freedom to pursue their careers. Here are some best practices for creating a fair non-solicitation clause:

  • Be Specific. Clearly define what type of conduct is prohibited. For example, specify which clients or employees are covered by the clause and for how long after an employee leaves the company. Vague language can lead to confusion and disputes down the line.
  • Consider Reasonableness. Courts will often scrutinize non-solicitation clauses to ensure they are reasonable in scope and duration. Startups should consider whether the restrictions they’re imposing on departing employees are necessary to protect their legitimate business interests or if they go too far.
  • Comply with Local Laws and Regulations. Review your local employment laws when drafting a non-solicitation clause. It’s worth noting that enforcement of non-solicitation clauses can vary by jurisdiction and depend on the specific language of the clause. Work with legal counsel if you are unsure about what the rules are for these types of clauses.

Enforcing a Non-solicitation Clause in Case of Violation

If an employee violates a non-solicitation clause, startups have legal options to enforce it. However, enforcing a non-solicitation clause can be challenging and costly. To prove that an employee has violated a non-solicitation clause, the startup will need evidence. This may include emails or other communication showing that the former employee solicited clients or employees from their former employer.

In some cases, startups can resolve a violation of a non-solicitation clause through negotiation. The startup could offer the former employee compensation or other incentives to cease their solicitation activities. If negotiation is not successful, the startup may choose to file suit against the former employee for breach of contract. This can be costly and time-consuming but may be necessary to protect the company’s interests.

A challenge that startups face is the potential for circumvention of the non-solicitation clause. Even with a well-drafted agreement, there is no guarantee that former employees will fully comply or that they won’t find creative ways to solicit clients or colleagues indirectly. Monitoring and proving such circumvention can be difficult, requiring significant resources and evidence gathering.

As startups grow and evolve, their needs may change. It’s important to periodically review non-solicitation clauses to ensure they still serve their intended purpose and remain fair to both parties. Startups should consult with legal counsel before taking any action to enforce a non-solicitation clause.

Non-solicitation Clauses in Different Jurisdictions

The legality of non-solicitation clauses can vary, depending on the jurisdiction. Some states and countries have strict laws regulating these types of restrictive covenants while others allow them more freely.

For example, in California, non-solicitation clauses are generally unenforceable under state law. This means that employers cannot prevent employees from soliciting clients or employees from their former employer, even if they signed a non-solicitation clause as part of their employment agreement.

In contrast, other states such as Texas and Florida allow non-solicitation clauses to be enforced as long as they meet certain criteria. In Texas, for example, a non-solicitation clause must be reasonable in scope and duration and designed to protect the employer’s legitimate business interests.

Internationally, the legality of non-solicitation clauses can also vary. In some countries such as Germany and France, these types of restrictive covenants are heavily regulated by law and may only be enforceable under certain circumstances. Other countries such as the United Kingdom allow for greater freedom in including non-solicitation clauses in employment agreements.

Startups should consult with legal counsel to understand the specific regulations around non-solicitation clauses in their jurisdiction before including them in their agreements. Failing to comply with applicable laws could result in legal liability for the company.

The Impact of Non-solicitation Clauses on Employees and the Company

Non-solicitation clauses can help companies retain key employees and clients. Startups invest significant time and resources into developing these relationships, so protecting them is critical for long-term success. Non-solicitation clauses can also provide an additional layer of security for confidential information or trade secrets. However, non-solicitation clauses can also create a culture of fear and mistrust within a startup, leading to decreased morale and productivity.

Ultimately, the impact of non-solicitation clauses on employees and the company will depend on how they are implemented and enforced. Startups should carefully consider whether including such clauses is necessary for their business needs while balancing the potential negative effects on employee mobility and workplace culture.


In conclusion, non-solicitation clauses can be an important tool for startups to protect their interests and assets, particularly in highly competitive industries where relationships and networks are critical. However, startups must also balance the potential negative effects on employee mobility and workplace culture. By following best practices and consulting with legal counsel, startups can create fair and effective non-solicitation clauses that serve their business needs without unduly restricting their employees.

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