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Restrictive Covenants

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In Bartholomews Agri Food v Thornton [2016] EWHC 648 (QB), Mr Thornton commenced employment as a trainee agronomist in 1997 and when he resigned in 2012 his employer sought to rely on a clause in his contract of employment which prevented him from working for any of the employer’s existing customer base for 6 months. The High Court refused to enforce this restrictive covenant on three grounds.

  1. Since Mr Thornton only worked with customers representing 2% of the Company’s overall turnover it would be manifestly unfair to prevent him from working for customers representing the other 98% of the existing customer base.
  2. Although the Company was prepared to continue paying Mr Thornton for the full 6 month period it would be contrary to public policy to allow an employer to “purchase” a restraint of trade.
  3. Even if Mr Thornton had been promoted to a role whereby the restrictive covenant could be regarded as reasonable (and hence enforceable) it was not enforceable when it was entered into and on that basis alone the employer’s application failed.

Written by Robin Aston
6th April 2016