Thank you for trusting your question to JA today. I am a licensed attorney with over a decade of law practice and over 20 years of experience in the legal field. I’m happy to be of assistance.
I'm not sure who told you about non-compete agreements, but I would not rely on their statement. It is not true that non-competes are generally ignored. They are disfavored, but that simply means that courts will scrutinize how they are written and just what you are stopped from doing in the agreement.
Courts look to see if the restrictions are reasonable. Being restricted from working in the field that you worked in, entirely throughout the country, that's going to be considered too restrictive. Being restricted from competing for 3 or 4 years, that's going to be considered too restrictive.
However, if your agreement just restricts from you working with clients that you worked with while employed by the company, that is seen as sufficiently narrow restriction, as it tries to capture only direct competition with clients that you had some dealing with. Likewise, a one year agreement is seen as reasonable, because it is on the short end of enforceable.
The distance that you mentioned here and your need for work are not actually legal factors for consideration in this question. On the facts you've given, I would say that the former employer can sue you. Whether it will be worth their effort or not is really up to them though.
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