Stuck in the Job

It used to be that people stayed with jobs they didn't like because they had decent health care coverage through their company's insurance. Now they're stuck because they have a non-compete clause built into their employment contract.


That not only hurts economic mobility, but also, in a way, innovation. It's a suppression of competitive spirit: If you go, we don't want you to do to us what we do to our competitors: try to offer something better.

The New York Times has been writing about the rise in non-compete clauses, and in the lawsuits against them, and a recent op-ed discussion has a lot of back-and-forth about the good and not-so-good points of non-compete clauses.

I'm against it.

Sure, there are certain proprietary things that I do in my own company, ways of marketing, angles of approach, that are unique to me and my team, and that help define us. And if someone leaves, taking along some of my ideas, I can't really do anything though I'll be chagrined at the loss. At the same time although I'll regret the loss, there's nothing I can really do to prevent someone leaving. Except try to come up with better ideas.

I understand that some proprietary knowledge, some intellectual property, is highly classified and essential to a company's bottom line. You don't want someone leaving with the code you're using to disrupt the marketplace; you don't want someone leaving with the formula for Coca-Cola. I get that; certain industries should have non-disclosure forms, and severe penalties for employees who spill something they should not.

But even in Silicon Valley, the non-competes have backfired, as Google, for one, revealed that it had problems hiring qualified people due to the non-compete "agreement" between it and Apple.

Employees should be able to work in the same industry when they leave. They shouldn't have to wait a few years until the company they left has stopped smarting from their departure. I realize that most companies actually do not care about their employees - they care about the bottom line, despite what the CEOs tell you in corporate interviews about how committed they are to their workers - but does a company really think it's protecting itself by insisting on the non-compete clause that keeps unhappy workers there?