Should I Sign a Non-compete Agreement?

Once used almost exclusively with high-level executives, non-compete clauses are making their way into the mainstream and appearing in unexpected places. Growing pressure is being placed on potential employees to sign agreements prohibiting them from working for the competition if, and when their employment would cease.

For companies, it’s considered good business, a way of protecting trade secrets and customer lists as well as a means to retain top talent—one of a company’s most valued assets.

For the employee, however, the negatives may outweigh the positive. The long-lasting implications that benefit the company may spell adversity if not ruin for the employee.Some lawyers dealing with the after effects of such agreements liken signing a non-compete to economic slavery, noting how employees can end up being trapped in a poorly paying job with no options. Millenials who are rapidly dominating the workforce may need to be especially vigilant before accepting a job that requires such an agreement.

What’s a job seeking individual to do? While some opponents of non-compete agreements would advise walking away from any job that required the signing of such a clause, not everyone has the luxury of turning their back on viable job offers.

It is both possible and advisable to protect yourself and your employment future.
• In anticipation of being presented with a non-compete agreement, familiarize yourself with the limits your state places on such agreements. Knowing this information will give you leverage to suggest adjustments.
• Resist the urge to sign an agreement on the spot. No matter how amazing the offered job sounds or how long you’ve been unemployed or how much you really want the job, don’t sign immediately.
• On the other hand, don’t raise an unnecessary red flag by blurting out a forceful “No!” at the mention of a non-compete clause. Show a willingness to consider the necessity of such an agreement.
• Ask for a copy of the agreement that can be taken home. Read the fine print in a no pressure atmosphere away from the eyes of a potential new boss. Seek legal counsel should the parameters of the agreement be difficult to understand or seem unreasonable (see below).
• View the non-compete stipulations the same way you would a salary or benefits package. While your bargaining power may not be equal to that of the company making the job offer, don’t assume the employer holds all the cards. Being informed will aid you in making counter suggestions.
• If, and when you decide to sign, keep a copy for yourself to refer to in the future.

Be wary of vague or unreasonable stipulations such as:
• An agreement that lasts too long. Negotiate for the shortest amount of time.
• A geographical area that is too large.
• Being too broad in the types of business it declares off limits.
• Being applied to employees who never had access to valuable information.

It’s easy to assume the signing of such an agreement will not be an issue when the employee’s down-the-road plans include a long tenure at this same company or he/she expects to be involved in a completely unrelated field later. But plans often change. Don’t assume the future you’ve mapped out will transpire exactly as you’ve planned.

Approach any job offer that comes with a non-compete agreement with caution and seek expert advice if necessary. Contact Springborn Staffing. We match candidates and companies in Bangor and Portland, Maine every day, creating win/win situations for both sides of the equation.

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