Is it fair to fire a physician and then enforce a noncompete?

Physician contracts frequently include a noncompete clause intended to protect organizations from losing patients to physicians who leave voluntarily. Even under typical circumstances, the provisions are controversial because of the limitations they place on a physician's ability to find new work. Scrutiny into the reasonableness of noncompetes has been on the rise in light of shifts in employment trends following the Affordable Care Act.

Most recently, a Virginia doctor has filed a lawsuit against his employer for attempting to enforce a noncompete after firing him without cause, according to a report from WDBJ7. According to the contract that asthma and allergy specialist, Thomas Fame, M.D., signed five years ago, he is prohibited from practicing within 60 miles of Asthma and Allergy Center for two years.

Prior to joining the Asthma and Allergy Center, Fame practiced in the region as an allergy specialist for 18 years. "I would like to practice in the Salem Roanoke Valley area where I've been for 23 years," he told WDBJ. "I have relationships with people here and people that rely on my services and I want to stay here at work."

Moreover, Fame said that he understands the purpose of noncompetes but does not believe his is valid after fter he brought his former patient base to the practice and then was let go without cause. Before resorting to a lawsuit, the doctor spent two months attempting to negotiate with the practice to release him from the noncompete.

In states where noncompetes or restrictive covenants are legal, they're generally enforceable as long as the terms are reasonable. These provisions are less likely to hold up, however, if they are too broad in scope, put patient care at risk or are enforced inconsistently.

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