A senior publishing company employee will have to kick his heels for a year after the High Court held him to the strict notice provisions in his employment contract and banned him from immediately taking up a position with a trade competitor (Elsevier Limited v Munro).

The accountant and chief financial officer resigned in April 2014 after receiving a job offer from a rival publisher. The company launched proceedings to restrain him from taking up his new post until the expiry of his 12-month notice period and from breaching his duties of good faith, fidelity, trust and confidence.

The Court rejected arguments that his treatment in the period before his departure amounted to a constructive dismissal which had brought his contractual obligations to an end. Also dismissed was the man's plea that his new employer could not be viewed as a substantial competitor of the company.

He argued that it was wrong to compel him into idleness for a year; however, the Court found that he had taken the new job because he found it more attractive. Although he could not be forced to return to his old position, he had chosen to absent himself from his employment without leave.

He was not in possession of any of the company's confidential documents and the Court accepted that he would not deliberately misuse any confidential information which he retained in his memory. However, the company had a legitimate interest to protect and, if he were to take up his new post straight away, the risk of damage to its business would be present and substantial.

Noting that the man was in continuing breach of his obligation to devote his time and attention to the company's affairs, the Court issued an injunction restraining him from taking up his new post, or any position with a competitor, until the end of his notice period in April 2015.

If the loss of a senior employee to a competitor could cause damage to your business, contact Dean Parnell on 0121 698 2200 or email d.parnell@sydneymitchell.co.uk for advice on steps you may be able to take to protect your legitimate business interests.

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