A client called me with good news last week. He had received a job offer to work as an assistant at a doctor’s office. His voice didn’t sound good, so I asked what was wrong. He told me that he didn’t want to sign an employment agreement. The language scared him. He sent a copy to me, and he had every reason to be afraid.
The business manager told my client it would be a full time position with benefits. The employment agreement said something very different. It stated that the employee would work when the business manager said work was available. If work was slow, he could be sent home or have a day cancelled. The employment agreement also contained a non-compete agreement that limited my client from working with a 15 mile radius of the doctor’s office for a period of 18 months. This clause would limit my client’s ability to find work close to his home. He asked the business manager if this language could be changed. She told him not to worry about it. She said that they just get this form signed to make the lawyers happy.
My client talked to a lawyer who warned him not to sign the agreement and keep looking for another job. I agreed with this advice. This kind of agreement is all one way. When there is work, the employer expects the employee to come in and do a good job. If there is no work, the employer saves the cost of paying employees. All the risk is borne by the employee. The non-compete is often used by such employers to keep employees from leaving.
Be careful. Only sign an employment agreement after you have read and understood it. If you have any doubts, ask your prospective employer to let you take the document and think about it for a day. Anyone who tries to force you to sign the document and take the job right away is clearly trying to trick and control you. Don’t be fooled. Take the time to know what you are signing.
One of my clients is fairly new to the job world. He’s transitioning from a small, family-run business to a career in sales. He recently accepted a job offer and signed a document call “Terms of Employment.” No big deal, he thought. Then he got an offer from another company, a better offer.
He asked me what he should do. I asked if he signed a non-compete agreement, which confused him. He had never heard of such a thing. I looked at the terms of employment, which did contain a rather restrictive non-compete agreement. I’m connecting my client with a lawyer who thinks the agreement is not valid. However, the bigger problem is that is exists at all.
Courts are giving more authority to companies to lock workers into non-compete agreements. Before you sign any kind of job document, read it carefully. If you don’t understand the document, take it to a lawyer. Once upon a time, non-competes were meant for elite employees who were very well compensated. Now they are one more tool that a boss can use to beat down a worker.
If my client’s non-compete holds, he would be very limited in where he could work for 18 months. He isn’t an elite skill employee, just a sales guy. There is no reason to lock this kind of employee into a non-compete. The problem is that he signed the document. Take a lesson and beware of any kind of contract or agreement that will limit your ability to get a new job.