Signing a non-compete agreement comes with the territory of some industries, especially if you are a mid-level professional or above. Maybe you haven’t given much thought to signing one if at first you weren’t planning on working with the competition anytime soon – but once you consider looking for a new job, you you may be wondering exactly where you are at. How can you apply for a new job with a potential competitor when you’ve agreed not to do just that?
WHAT IS A NON-COMPETITION AGREEMENT?
If you’re reading this, chances are you have at least a basic concept of non-compete agreements. However, this should be clarified before going any further to avoid any potential misunderstanding.
A non-competition agreement is a contract that legally prevents you from working with a competitor (or starting a new business that could be considered a competitor) for a period of time after you stop working for a business. Usually, you’ll sign it as a condition of starting your job, or when you onboard a new freelance or contract client.
The idea is to protect a company after it shares sensitive information and insider knowledge with an employee, which could benefit a competitor if that employee continues to work for it. Although non-competitions are particularly common for higher-level employees who are likely to have access to more crucial information, they can apply to anyone.
NAVIGATING THE JOB SEARCH WITH A NON-COMPETITION AGREEMENT
If you’ve signed a non-compete agreement and are considering jumping ship, what exactly does that mean to you?
As you will soon realize for yourself, non-compete agreements are complex, different for everyone, and the rules are constantly changing, but here are some tips to keep in mind.
1. TAKE A PRUDENT APPROACH
First, think carefully about your situation and avoid doing anything drastic. Even if you are not yet at the stage of signing a contract with a new employer, you can still start to venture into dangerous territory if you are not careful.
For example, if your current employer realizes that you’ve been looking at offers from a competitor while you’re at your desk or on your work computer, it could lead to bad news. You can look for another job in your free time, but you should not use the resources of your current organization.
2. DETERMINE IF YOUR CONTRACT IS APPLICABLE
As soon as you reach the stage where you are considering looking for another job, be sure to familiarize yourself with the contract you have signed.
Most people who have signed a non-compete agreement want to know if they are facing an empty threat or if breaking the agreement could get them in trouble. Unfortunately, this is not a simple question to answer.
For one thing, state laws determine non-compete agreements, so there’s a lot of variation depending on where you live and work. Florida happens to have one of the highest application rates. On the other hand, non-competition contracts are practically unenforceable in North Dakota, Oklahoma, the District of Columbia and California. Other states fall somewhere in between.
If you find that your contract contains vague and broad terms or asks you to wait an unrealistic period of time before working for a competitor (more than five years), this is a strong sign that your contract may not be valid. be unenforceable.
Regulations surrounding non-competition agreements are changing rapidly — in fact, President Joe Biden has proposed prohibit or limit non-competition agreements to encourage greater competition in the economy. Although this mainly targets less experienced employees, it could also have an impact on other levels.
3. CONTACT A LAWYER
Just because there are certain instances where non-concurrences aren’t enforceable doesn’t mean you should ignore them and assume that everything will be fine. The consequences of breaking a non-compete agreement can be very serious – you could be sued, which means you will have to pay your former employer’s legal fees and any other penalties.
If you have doubts in your mind or want to make sure you fully understand an agreement, it may be worth consulting an employment law attorney.
4. BE TRANSPARENT WITH NEW EMPLOYERS
It’s tempting to think that you can just pretend your non-compete agreement doesn’t exist, but that’s not a wise way to go. Instead, it’s best to be transparent with a potential new employer. The question may come up in an interview, but even if it doesn’t, it’s best to be open from the start.
Being honest won’t get you in trouble. On the contrary, the new employer could help you understand the contract and offer solutions or potential shortcomings. It’s certainly a more attractive prospect than having to pay a lawyer.
However, be careful not to mention any sensitive information related to your current employer during an interview.
FORWARD AND UP
Non-competition agreements can be serious business, so it’s essential to go through them carefully and study their terms before embarking on a job search that may involve breaking your contract. Yet, although they are a significant obstacle, non-competition is not always an absolute obstacle to getting the new job you want.
The information provided here does not constitute legal advice and is not intended to replace the advice of an attorney on any specific matter. For legal advice, you should consult a lawyer regarding your particular situation.
Tim Madden is an executive coach and former headhunter. Founder of Executive Career Upgradesits mission is to help accelerate careers.