Employee Duty of Loyalty
In Missouri — even without an employment contract, non-compete agreement, non-solicitation agreement or confidentiality agreement — an employee owes his/her employer a duty of loyalty. Western Blue Print Co., LLC v. Roberts, 367 S.W.3d 7, 15 (Mo. 2012). What this generally means is that an employee cannot work directly against his/her employer’s interests. At the same time, though, an employee may often prepare to leave employment and compete directly against his/her employer. A breach arises when the employee goes beyond the mere planning and preparation and actually engages in direct competition. Id. at 17. Activities tht constitute a breach of the duty of loyalty in this respect including using (1) confidential information peculiar to the employer’s business, (2) soliciting customers before the end of the employment or (3) other acts that result in direct competition.
Presently, relatively few cases exist elaborating on all of the factual circumstances in which an employee improperly uses confidential information, solicits customers or otherwise engages in “direct competition.” Consequently, future cases will have to spell out when an employee specifically “crosses the line” and may be held liable. Courts will need to balance the competing interests of preventing employees from unfairly competing against an employer versus allowing an employee latitude in switching jobs.
Contact with questions pertaining to non-compete agreement, non-solicitation agreements, confidentiality agreements or employee duty claims.