In JM Finn & Co Ltd v Thomas Brook Holliday  EWHC 3450 (QB), the High Court granted an injunction to keep an employee on garden leave for the whole of his 12 month notice period.
Mr Holliday was employed by JM Finn & Co Ltd ("the firm") as a stockbroker. Since joining the firm in 1999 he had developed very strong connections with many of the firm's clients. His employment contract contained a mutual 12 month notice period and a clause giving the firm the right to place him on garden leave for the duration of the notice period. In July 2013, Mr Holliday resigned after receiving a job offer from one of the firm's competitors. The firm relied on its contractual right to place him on garden leave with immediate effect for the duration of his notice period. Shortly afterwards, Mr Holliday alleged that the firm was in fundamental breach of contract in failing to send him briefing notes he had requested. He informed the firm that he was therefore no longer bound by his employment contract and would start working for the competitor in August 2013. He also expressed his intention to try to persuade the firm's clients who he had previously dealt with to transfer their business to the competitor.
The High Court granted the firm an injunction to keep Mr Holliday on garden leave for the remainder of his notice period, i.e. until July 2014, thereby preventing him from joining the competitor until then. The Court found that the firm had proved that this was no more than was reasonably necessary to protect its legitimate business interest of maintaining a connection with its clients who had previously dealt with Mr Holliday. The Court found there was a strong risk that Mr Holliday would be able to ‘charm' many of the firm's clients if he was allowed access to them in the near future, in particular as he had actively tried to divert a business opportunity from the firm to the competitor in the lead up to the trial. The Court also took into account the fact that Mr Holliday had agreed to the 12 month notice period and had sought legal advice on it.
This is encouraging for employers (given that, until now, it has been considered difficult to enforce garden leave for more than 6 months) but it should be remembered that cases dealing with employee restrictions on termination (e.g. garden leave or restrictive covenants) will always be fact and context specific – what may be reasonable in one case may not necessarily be in another.