When do the terms of your employment move from being a voluntary agreement between two parties to being unfair? In this economy, employers have the upper hand, and people are so happy to be offered employment, any employment, they will take the job, no matter the conditions.

I post this because of the newest trend in employment: the non compete clause. Now I’m not saying that the non-compete clause is anything new. Those clauses have long been used to keep key employees from taking valuable company secrets with them to their new employers. A prime example of this, is the lawyer who leaves a firm and takes valuable clients with him to his new firm. However, the non-compete clause is now being used as a club against workers by telling them that not only will they have their hours cut or be fired if they don’t do as they are told, but they will also not be allowed to get a job anywhere else, either.

Places like the Jimmy John’s chain of sandwich shops are requiring their minimum wage sandwich makers to sign non-compete clauses to prevent them from leaving for better employment. The non-compete clause is buried in the fine print on the job application. You can blame a person for not having job skills all you want, but this prevents those workers from ever improving their lives. Suppose that I am a worker at a sandwich shop, and I am making minimum wage. I am working during the day, and attending college at night. I get a degree in restaurant management, and I am offered a job managing a TGIFridays. Under the terms of the non-compete clause, I can’t take it. I am literally stuck in my minimum wage job.

I have been forced to sign a non-compete twice:
Two decades ago, I worked for a company that provided technical services at the Orlando airport. A competitor opened up nearby, and began taking a substantial part of the company’s business away. The competitor was offering $3 an hour more, in addition to a $1,000 signing bonus, to anyone who left my company to work for them. Our ten employee location lost two employees within a week of each other, and one of them was the location manager.
The remaining employees, myself included, were told that we had to sign a non-compete clause that prohibited us from working at any airport location for two years after leaving the employ of the company. The penalty for not signing the agreement was that we would be immediately terminated.

The second time was just three years ago. I was working as an instructor at a private college. To save money, the school told us that we were not employees. We were contractors. We would serve at the pleasure of the company, and had to pay our own taxes (so they would not have to cover the matching half of Social Security), we were not covered by Worker’s Comp because we were not employees, we received no benefits, and we were not promised any specific number of hours. However, we still had to wear the company’s uniform (Polo shirts with the school logo), punch a time clock, teach according to the school’s lesson plans. The non-compete clause said that I could not teach for any other school within 50 miles for two years after leaving employment with them.

It wound up biting me in the end. The school’s director and I had a slight disagreement in 2013, and he cut my hours to four hour lecture every month. I tried to work for other schools, but as soon as they found out where I had worked, I was told that they did not want to get involved with the legal battle that would result if they hired me, and that was that. Even though I was never technically an employee of the school, the mere threat of a lawsuit hurt my chances at working anywhere near Orlando.

That is why I am not IN Orlando any longer.

In short, I think that any time an employer requires that you sign a non-compete clause, that employer should be responsible for continuing to pay you your salary until you are released from the restrictions of the clause. That will ensure that these clauses are only used when they are vital to the employer’s business interests, and not as a tool to punish employees.

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