Don’t Interfere With Existing Contracts or Business Relationships
There is a guy that can set up IT networks better than anybody else in the community. You want that guy to work for your company. The problem is that he has a contract with your competitor, and working for you, would be a breach of the contract with your competitor .
You offer the IT guy a lot of money. Promise him continuing work. Offer him a contract. He accepts, breaking his contract with his competitor, and comes to work for you.
Days later, the process server shows up at your business’ doors—you are now being sued. How is this possible?
Tortious Interference with Contract
It’s because of what is known as a claim for tortious interference with contract. By coercing and cajoling the IT guy to breach his contract with your competitor, you have just wrongfully interfered with an existing contract, and caused the IT guy to breach his contract, and because of that, you can now be sued.
Many business owners aren’t aware of potential liability for tortious interference of contract, because on the surface, it just seems like good competitive business. But causing someone to breach an existing contract can lead to you being sued.
Elements of Tortious Interference
To be sued, you must act intentionally—that is, you must be aware that there is an existing contract, and must do something purposefully to get the third party to breach the contract. You also have to actually know that there is a contract or business relationship.
Note that there doesn’t have to be an actual, written contract that exists. Any business relationship that exists that guarantees further and continuing work or business between two parties, cannot be interfered with knowingly.
Exceptions and Some Leeway
You cannot be sued for just getting someone to work for you, where there is no contract to be interfered with.
In our example above, if the IT guy was just a freelancer or a contractor, doing work for multiple companies, and you coerce him to work for you exclusively, there likely is no tortious interference with the contract. There would be no existing, ongoing promise of future business to be interfered with.
You have a bit more leeway, when working with companies that you already have an existing business relationship with. In our example, if you had a contract with the IT company, or even just ongoing business relationships on a contractual, per-job basis, and someone else tried to lure the IT company away from you, you would have some leeway to coerce the IT pro to come back to you, or to continue to work for you.
One area that businesses often get sued is with noncompete agreements. If you coerce or convince an employee to breach a noncompete agreement to come work for you, you can expect your business to get sued—along with your new employee or contractor.
Need help with your business or commercial litigation case? Call our Fort Lauderdale business lawyers at Sweeney Law P.A. at 954-440-3993 today.