Employers often try to get employees, especially in management jobs and skill position jobs, to sign non-compete clauses in their employment contracts. The employers assert that they spend a lot of time and money training and developing their employees. Why should an employee be able to leave for a competitor just when they’ve become a valuable asset to the company?
Employee advocates respond that employers have a simple solution – pay the worker good wages, provide good benefits, and provide a career path for the employer. If employers can’t provide good incentives for the worker to stay, the employee should be able to leave for a better job. Sometimes, new jobs, even though they may compete on some level, help the employee pursue new paths. Some employees just want to pursue the American dream – and have their own business.
California has ruled in favor of employee movement. The California Business and Professions Codes provides in its Contracts and Restraint of Trade Section that, with some exceptions, “every contract by which anyone is restrained from engaging in a lawful profession, trade, or business of any kind is to that extent void.”
How employees can contest non-compete clauses and enforcement actions
In Sacramento and throughout the state, employees can assert the California law if an employer files a lawsuit to enforce a non-compete contract. Given the clarity of the law, they could also like file a counterclaim for filing a frivolous complaint.
If a worker is being told, we won’t renew your contract unless you sign a non-compete clause, the employee can file a wrongful termination claim against the employer. In wrongful termination cases, the employee can demand:
- To be reinstated in their job
- Any lost income and benefits due to the firing
- Attorney’s fees
- Other applicable damage
Workers have the right to contest a non-compete clause even if the employer reasonably believes the employee is taking trade secrets such as a customer list.
How non-compete clauses are handled outside of California
Most other states use an older analysis for non-compete clauses. Generally, states will validate a non-compete clause unless:
- The non-compete clause is used to prevent the worker for a long length of time – such as more than a year after leaving
- The non-compete clause is used to stop the worker from working even though the employee has moved far away – generally beyond a 25 or 50-mile radius – depending on the type of work being done
Exceptions to non-compete provisions
Sacramento employees should be aware that employers do have some rights regarding competition:
- Employers can enforce their proprietary rights. Employers can file a claim if and when an employee uses trade secrets or discloses trade secrets to a competing employer. Damages for using employee customer lists to start a new business can be severe – though defenses may be available.
- Employers who buy a new business, interest in a partnership, or a limited liability corporation can condition the sale on the requirement that the seller does not compete with them. The condition must not be too broad – it can’t stop the buyer from opening a new business in a distant location.
Techniques employers use to avoid California’s non-compete law
Employers are now trying new ways to get around California’s non-compete law. Two of these ways, which employees should challenge by speaking with a skilled Sacramento employee rights lawyer are:
- Lengthening the time requirement for giving notice to the employer that the employee is leaving – from two weeks to several months or more.
- Trying to have the employee sign that any disputes in the contract will be based by the law in the state where the employer is headquartered or incorporated – and not California.
Protect your rights. If an employer is restraining your right to work, the experienced Sacramento law offices of Stephen Danz & Associates are ready to help. We’ve been fighting for workers in California for nearly 40 years. To make an appointment, please call (877)789-9707 or complete our contact form. Se Habla Espanol.