The Court of Appeals of Wisconsin certified an important question to the state Supreme Court concerning restrictive covenant law:
Is consideration in addition to continued employment required to support a covenant not to compete entered into by an at-will employee?
The case is Runzheimer Int'l Ltd. v. Friedlin, 2014 Wisc. App. LEXIS 342 (Ct. App. Apr. 15, 2014). The question, to be sure, is a recurring one across the states. This is for a few reasons.
The policy rationales for and against a consideration rule lie in tension with one another. On the enforcement side, employers say that because they can terminate at-will employees without liability, there's no true distinction between a covenant signed at the start of employment and those signed mid-stream (or, as an afterthought). Conversely, employees legitimately can argue they face a disparity in bargaining power and feel serious economic pressure to sign a contract just to keep their job.
Wisconsin courts haven't really addressed this issue head-on, which is surprising given that state's volume of non-compete disputes and its well-known pro-employee bent. The few cases - none directly on point - push courts in opposite directions, which is reflective of the policy tension I just discussed. Decisions from other states aren't helpful, because there's no uniform rule. The pro-employee cases make just as much sense as the pro-employer cases. (Not surprisingly, the Court of Appeals did not discuss the analysis from Illinois' much-maligned Fifield decision, probably since there is no analysis in that case to rely on.)
From my perspective, it's a bit myopic to say no consideration is required simply because the at-will relationship is fluid and starts anew each day. This is a theoretical argument and ignores a couple of realities.
First, it assumes freely terminate people when they view them as valuable. There's no empirical support for this. I am not aware of employers firing employees en masse only to rehire them with a non-compete. Not only would such a practice impair goodwill, but it actually would raise the specter of liability for unemployment costs. The pro-employer theory neglects to consider marketplace realities and the intangible harm to reputation that could arise.
Second, an employee may accept a job with Company X in reliance on the fact X never asked him to sign a restrictive covenant. Presumably, that impacted his decision to forego other jobs. Those lost (irretrievably) opportunities should be accounted for at least to the same degree as the theoretical "fire-rehire" justification.
In the final analysis, I'm not a huge fan of "continued employment" as a consideration theory. It seems wishy to me, and employers ought to come up with something better - a promotion, a new commission opportunity, a bonus - to justify binding an employee to a significant work restriction.