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Career News for July 2007
Non-Compete Agreements

AUTHOR:      Gayle Oliver
PUBLISHED:  July 7, 2007

Our nation?s celebration of liberty and outdoor grilling is fast-approaching. Before I vacate my office chair for a more inviting lawn chair, I thought it important to remind myself that this particular holiday honors our very lifestyles around the freedom to work and live in a country that is founded on ?liberty and justice for all.?

Whether you like the current day politics, corporate mishaps, or latest incarcerated celebrity, the point is that we are both encouraged and allowed to each become who we choose to be and to follow our own script for what makes us successful at work or at home. Nowhere is it truer than in the USA: ?Being who you are is the privilege of a lifetime.? ? Joseph Campbell

I am immensely grateful to live in America, where I have been able to be an entrepreneur since the age of 25 and to express myself in a business that rewards me through the value of my relationships. It is my privilege to know and work with uniquely talented people like each of you. Have a safe and wonderful July 4th holiday.

With appreciation, Gayle

Gayle Oliver, President and CEO
EXECUME



CAUTION: YOUR ?JOHN HANCOCK? MAY BE REQUIRED

Many professionals are asked to sign a wide variety of employment agreements, especially ?non-compete agreements.? The question is, should you sign it and make a promise you may or may not want to keep? Much like a prenuptial agreement, employment documents are designed to protect one side?the side with the most money. There is a great deal of truth to the old adage, ?he with the gold rules.? The employer is typically the one with the gold, and you want some of it. Although it is awkward to ask someone to sign a document that outlines what will happen if the relationship deteriorates in the future, it is a good way to avoid misunderstandings down the road.

Unromantic as it may be to think about leaving any new relationship, personal or professional, the odds indicate that it is highly likely to happen at some point. The more clear cut things are on that fateful departure day, the less likely that you or your employer will have a need to argue, or worse, litigate about the terms of separation. Many employees, however, feel it is unfair for them to be required to sign a non-compete agreement.

There are two schools of thought. One group will tell you to go ahead and sign it because non-competes are very difficult for the employer to have upheld in court. The other group believes you should sign this document with great caution. My thoughts are this: if you are willing to walk away from the opportunity, then not signing the document will leave you the most flexibility for future employment without any limitations. In this case, you could probably walk in the front door of your employer?s biggest competitor and immediately leverage all of the relationships, product knowledge, and trade secrets you have gained during your prior employment without any fear of retribution. However, if you did sign that non-compete in your moment of new job ecstasy, I suggest you rethink ignoring it.

Although non-competes may be hard to uphold legally, most companies have deeper pockets that you do. Having to defend yourself legally may be financially draining and could cost you your new job. Your new employer may not want to incur any legal obligations on your behalf because you entangled them in your legal troubles. In fact, I have known new employees that have been ?released? from their new employer because a signed non-compete was being legally disputed. Even though the employee ultimately won the case, the employee now had no job and a lot of new legal bills. Worse yet, if these employees are asked whether they have ever sued a former employer, the answer will now be yes.

Before accepting a new job, it is important to be honest with your prospective employer that you have a non-compete agreement in place. Full disclosure to them about your situation allows them to make a clear decision about whether they want to hire you. It is better to find that out before you leave an existing job. Once you have given notice, instead of ignoring the non-compete, consider trying to renegotiate it on your way out. If you acknowledge that you intend to honor the agreement, your current employer may consider a renegotiation, if you have a good rationale for your request. You may be able to renegotiate a shorter time frame for the non-compete, or maybe revised restrictions on geographic territories, clients, or product lines that are less of a competitive threat to the current company.

Whether you like it or not, your signature is your commitment. In honor of our Founding Fathers who committed to building a country where we can enjoy the freedoms of free enterprise, we should all remember the importance of what a signature meant. It meant making choices ? clear choices with clear consequences. Capitalism does thrive on competition, but as we?ve seen in corporations since the turn of the century, it only truly thrives when competition is accompanied with integrity. Keep your integrity and only sign if you can live with the consequences.




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