An enforceable restraint of trade can be a key business asset. Some might think about it as an insurance policy. The capacity to preserve customer connections, protect confidential information and discourage key executives from setting up their own business or moving to a competitor can be critical to information rich businesses operating in a competitive market.

This is the case now more than ever given that the Supreme Court of Victoria’s decision in Just Group Limited v Peck [2016] VSC 614 (later affirmed on appeal) has arguably raised the bar for correctly drafting an effective restraint.

As we pointed out in our second blog piece on post-employment protections, ensuring the currency of your restraint provisions is an important exercise in risk management.

This success can be attributed to the practice of regularly revisiting the questions of which key executives or employees should be subject to restraints, and how those restraints should operate. The yearly promotion, pay rise or management re-shuffle cycles are perfect opportunities to update restraint provisions. Often, this is when operational changes (such as the make-up of roles) become effective, so restraints can be tweaked to align with these changes. A promotion or pay rise can be tied to a new contract or restraint provision. Instead of adopting a one-size-fits-all approach when an employee first joins the business, employers can increase the likelihood that a restraint will be enforceable by showing it was the subject of specific negotiation during the employment.

Experience in this area reveals one key distinction which separates cases where restraints are successfully upheld and those where compromise outcomes are achieved. In successful cases, typically, the restraint provision has been drafted neatly around the key protectable interests. When seeking to enforce a restraint, an employer will be required to show there is a protectable interest capable of supporting the restraint. This is the first limb of the test for enforceability. The scope, duration and geographical operation of the restraint are logically tied to the protectable interest (see our map below). An employer will need to make out each of these elements to meet the second limb of the test.

Post-Employment Protections Legal Dimension – Map

If the restraint then needs to later be relied upon down the track, the employer has the benefit of a provision which protects a current business asset (e.g. key connections with important customers or suppliers who the employee is in contact with) this is likely to be enforceable in court. If the opportunity to update a restraint has been missed, it may be necessary to try to force fit the facts into a restraint that might have been drafted years earlier in a very different business context – for example, when the employee was performing a different role. This can increase the degree of difficulty when enforcing a restraint.

Although courts will give employers some latitude – because the reasonableness of a restraint is judged at the time it was entered into – that latitude is limited. Regular housekeeping means that it won’t be necessary to call on this latitude because the restraint is fit for its purpose, and enforcement proceedings can be approached with confidence.

Doing this work inevitably pays dividends over the long term. Preparing an effective restraint is similar in concept to buying an insurance policy. You hope you won’t have to call it in. But if you do need to call on it, you are very glad you have it. The past decision to do the work inevitably looks very wise.


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Employment class action lawsuits are a common cause of action in North America, and while we have traditionally seen fewer in Australia, there has been a recent uptick in occurrences. What does this mean for Australian employers? Without large numbers of cases and their precedents to study, how you plan for and prevent class actions may be an ‘unknown’ for many employers. Given the unique bet-the-company issues for employers arising from class actions – we have outlined some risks and strategies.

The Australian context

Whilst uncommon in Australia, there are high-profile examples of employment class action lawsuits.

Indeed, proceedings brought during the 1998 Waterfront Dispute were brought on behalf of approximately 1,400 employees under the Federal Court of Australia’s class action regime. Another example dating back to the days of Australian Workplace Agreements involved proceedings brought on behalf of over 700 academic and general employees of a university.

More recently, two employment class actions have been commenced targeting companies who provide marketing services for large and well-known brands, alleging contravention of minimum labour standards.

Why is the class action landscape changing now?

There are many reasons for the uptick in claims, and those relevant to employment include:

  • diminishing union membership across the private sector, but an increase in individual rights and prominence of plaintiff law firms organising class actions
  • an increased public awareness of minimum labour standards and broadly applicable laws, such as the general protections provisions, brought into focus as a result of a number of well documented scandals
  • an increase in the activity of litigation funders willing to venture outside their traditional stomping ground of commercial litigation.

We also predict that there will be many more such actions in the future, particularly given the ramped up penalties for franchisors and holdings companies found to have been complicit in the underpayment of employees or failure to keep proper employment records by their franchisees and subsidiaries.

Learnings from the US

At Seyfarth, our team of workplace law experts analyse and breakdown the mosaic of US class actions each year compiling a report that highlights the trends. In 2017 they recognised:

  1. Settlements skyrocket
    The monetary value of settlements rose dramatically, with the top 10 settlements in employment-related categories totalling a record high of US $2.72 billion — nearly US $1 billion more than 2016. In Australia, settlements are already causing an increase in insurance premiums for directors.
  2. A favourable landscape
    Evolving case law precedents and new defence approaches resulted in better statistical outcomes for employers in opposing class certification requests for the second straight year. In one of the most active categories, wage & hour litigation, employers won 63% of decertification rulings, a success rate up almost 20% from 2016.
  3. More enforcement
    With the federal government in transition, 2017 results were heavily influenced by Obama administration holdover policies and personnel as government enforcement litigation increased. This balloon is expected to burst in 2018 as the Trump administration settles in further, pulling back these policies and positions; yet, at the same time, it is expected that the private plaintiffs’ class action bar will step up their lawsuit filings and “fill the void”.
  4. Pivotal rulings
    Several key decisions in 2017 of the Supreme Court were arguably more pro-business and pro-employer than in the past. In May 2018 the Supreme Court profoundly changed the class action playing field with its highly anticipated ruling on the Epic Systems, Murphy Oil, and Ernst & Young trilogy of cases which found workplace arbitration agreements with class action waivers were lawful and enforceable.

To access the full report, and additional commentary visit www.workplaceclassactionreport.com.


For a discussion on the ‘best of breed’ strategies in class action and litigation globally – contact one of our partners.

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Effective restraints of trade protect businesses which rely heavily on human capital from damage that sometimes can’t be undone. These restraints – usually sitting in an employment contract – can be a key business asset.

Others might think about it as an insurance policy. The capacity to preserve customer connections, protect confidential information and discourage key executives from setting up their own business or moving to a competitor can be critical to information rich businesses operating in a competitive market. As we pointed out in our previous blog piece on post-employment protections The difference between winning and losing restraint litigation is often good housekeeping, ensuring the currency of your restraint provisions is an important exercise in risk management. Continue Reading You get to write the script for this story…

An enforceable restraint of trade can be a key business asset. Or some might think about it as an insurance policy. The capacity to preserve customer connections, protect confidential information and discourage key executives from setting up their own business or moving to a competitor can be critical to information rich businesses operating in a competitive market.  As we pointed out in our second blog piece on post-employment protections, ensuring the currency of your restraint provisions is an important exercise in risk management.  Continue Reading The difference between winning and losing restraint litigation is often good housekeeping

  • An all too common feature of individual employee claims is to include salacious allegations designed to shame or embarrass management representatives.
  • In many cases, such allegations are unrelated to the issues to be determined in the case and are made without proper foundation.  Rather, their purpose is to extract a “shame or silence” premium in settlement negotiations.
  • Recent cases debunk popular “cost-free” perceptions about the Fair Work jurisdiction and reinforce that smear campaigns expose employees and their representatives to liability for legal costs of those required to defend them.
  • Careful positioning by employers can turn the tables on such campaigns by exposing baseless or irrelevant allegations for what they are – an attempt at leverage –  with costly consequences for those responsible.

If you would like more information, read on… Continue Reading Recovering wasted costs and combatting the “trial by media” litigation strategy