Tag: Employment law

  • Is Your Non-Compete Agreement Enforceable?

    Spider-Man vs. Batman by JD Hancock, Non-compete Agreements
    Spider-Man vs. Batman by JD Hancock

    When you started your job, did you read your employment agreement before you signed it? What about the employee handbook – did you read it or just sign the form that says you read it? There’s a good chance one of those documents contained a non-compete agreement (NCA).

    NCAs are a necessary evil, especially in this day when employees are less likely to stay at a company for their entire careers. These are contracts that restrict your ability to work in a similar position for a specified amount of time and geographic area if you leave the company.

    When someone’s thinking of leaving their job, they often review their NCA and ask if it’s valid. A lot of companies won’t hire you if it would violate your NCA. If you think your NCA is invalid, you can go to court and ask a judge to invalidate it.

    The court will have a hearing and weigh your interests against your employer’s. On one hand your employer doesn’t want to train someone and give them access to company information to lose them to their direct competition.  On the other hand, you have a right to choose where you work and you shouldn’t become unemployable because of a NCA.

    The validity of a NCA is governed by state laws and decisions from previous court cases. There was a great article in the September edition of Arizona Attorney Magazine by David Bray and David Ferrucci about the enforceability of NCAs. Here are some of the highlights.

    Courts generally want NCAs to have clear and reasonable provisions. If your NCA can interpreted in two ways – one that narrow and enforceable one that is overly broad and unenforceable and in the ex-employee’s favor – the court will usually rule in that it’s too broad and thus unenforceable. The court will look at whether you negotiated your NCA. Many new hires are given a nonnegotiable NCA as part of their employee handbook and they can either accept it as written or work somewhere else. If the NCA was negotiated, the court will be more likely to try to determine the parties’ intent when they wrote the contract.

    There’s also something called the blue-pencil rule in Arizona. This allows a court to excise “grammatically severable” and unreasonable provisions from a contract but keep the reasonable provisions. This keeps the whole contract from being invalid because of one invalid provision.

    You can also have step-down provisions in the contract.  An example of this would be, “This non-compete agreement will be in place for 12 months after the employee leaves the company. If a court finds this duration to be invalid, then the duration will be 9 months. If a court finds this duration to be invalid, then the duration will be 6 months.”

    A valid step-down provision will only have 2 or 3 choices and be written in good faith. A 2006 Arizona case said that good faith step-down provisions must be:

    1. Definite,
    2. Consistent with the underlying provision,
    3. Easily severable from unreasonable provisions,
    4. Have a narrow duration range, and
    5. Have a reasonable geographic scope.

    A valid NCA might result in you not being able to work for a direct competitor or in the physical vicinity of your previous employment, but your skills are likely transferable to other jobs or you can do the same job if you’re willing to do it far enough away from your previous employer.

    Read your employment contract carefully. If you’re an employee, get a copy of it before your first day on the job so you can review it and possibly have a business lawyer review it. If you’re an employer, hire a lawyer to write your NCA for you so a court will be less likely to rule that it’s overly broad or otherwise invalid.

    One word of caution: In contract cases, Arizona is a “loser pays” state. If you go to court to dispute a NCA and you lose, you’ll be paying for your attorney and the other side’s attorney.

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    Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

  • How To Respond If An Interviewer Asks For Your Facebook Password

    Padlocks by Jon Worth

    The news media recently exploded with reports that employers are asking prospective employees for their Facebook passwords. A few years ago, I heard of interviewers asking prospective employees if they could see their Facebook pages. This takes it to a whole new level, and I think it’s disrespectful.

    A lot of prospective employees are desperate for work, so I suspect a lot of them are complying with the request. I think a lot of people are shocked by the question and are saying “yes” without fully realizing what they are doing.

    If a prospective employer asked for my Facebook password, my first thought would be two choice words (seven letters – you figure it out). Hopefully before those words escaped my lips, I’d temper that thought with something like, “I’m a very private person. I use Facebook to connect with close friends and family. I’d rather not give you that information.” I could follow that up with a statement that all my tweets are public if they want another glimpse into who I am as a person online.

    I look at this question like when a police officer asks to look in your bag. They wouldn’t ask the question if they didn’t need your permission. You have the right to say “no” to the cop, just as you have the right to say “no” to prospective employer who asks for your social media passwords.

    When a prospective employer asks for your social media passwords, they are opening themselves up for liability. There are a lot of things an employer can’t ask about in an interview, and they can be sued if they make hiring decisions based on things like race, gender, disability, or religion. If they have access to your otherwise privacy protected Facebook page, they may see information like your race, religion, or disability that could influence their hiring decision and put them at risk of getting sued for discrimination.

    If anyone asks for your Facebook password, whether it’s your best friend or a prospective employer, the answer is always, “No.” If an employer won’t hire you because you won’t turn over your Facebook password, you don’t want to work for them anyway. A concerted effort from prospective employees pushing back against this question could be enough to make it stop.

    UPDATE (3/26/2012): Facebook is warning users not to give their passwords to prospective employers.

  • New Rules for Company Social Media Policies

    Snark by Loozrboy

    The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) released an update last week with the latest developments in social media and employment. In a nutshell, this report says that you can say a lot online about your workplace and your employer and not get fired.

    The law protects employees when they are engaged in a “protected concerted activity.” This includes discussions for mutual aid and protection about wages and work conditions with co-workers and third parties, statements where you are representing your coworkers or are outgrowths of previous employment discussions, and statements that are intended to induce group action. You can be pretty critical of your employer and/or coworkers without getting fired.

    You can still get fired if your posts are defamatory, disparaging, or threatening or are simply gripes or rants.

    The unexpected take-away from this report was how hard it is for employers to draft a social media policy that isn’t overly broad or doesn’t impede a protected concerted activity. You could tell that many of the employers in the report were thoughtful about their policy’s verbiage, and it was still found to be unlawful.

    Based on the NLRB report, here’s what you can’t do with your company social media policy:

    • Restrict all public statements regarding the company,
    • Prohibit disparaging comments about the company on any media,
    • Prohibit employees from communicating with the media without prior authorization
    • Tell employees to avoid identifying themselves as the company’s employees or require approval to identify themselves as an employee,
    • Require all communications on social media sites to be honest, professional, and appropriate,
    • Prohibit “inappropriate conversations” and “disrespectful conduct,”
    • Prohibit engaging in unprofessional communication that could negatively impact the employer’s reputation,
    • Prohibit the disclosure of “confidential, sensitive, or non-public” information unless you provide examples,
    • Require employees to state on every post that they are stating their opinion and not the employer’s (but it’s ok to require this somewhere on their personal accounts), or
    • Require employees to bring “work-related concerns” to the company first.

    The only policy described in the NLRB report that found to be lawful was narrow and specific. It prohibited “the use of social media to post or display comments about coworkers or supervisors or the Employer that are vulgar, obscene, threatening, intimidating, harassing, or a violation of the Employer’s workplace policies against discrimination, harassment, or hostility on account of age, race, religion, sex, ethnicity, nationality, disability, or other protected class, status, or characteristic.”

    These policies are hard to write and a lawful one requires the employer to accept that they can’t control what their employees say outside of work and that, in a lot of cases, the employees can voice harsh judgment about the company without being at risk of getting fired as long as it’s a protected concerted activity.