Imagine you are a boss training a new worker on a difficult job. You spend weeks teaching your new hire the ins and outs of the industry, offering detailed technical advice on tricky situations and spending time and money on a rigorous training. Then, just as your training is wrapping up, your new employee quits and takes a job across town at your biggest competitor.
Seems unfair, right? That’s the situation that lawyers and lawmakers envisioned when designing non-compete agreements, contractual limits that bar workers from taking information and skills they learned on the job to a direct competitor in an unfair way.
Unfortunately, the solution that they designed is now being used in situations that are far from what was originally envisioned. Non-compete agreements were supposed to be a shield to protect employers from unfair situations, but they are now being used as a sword against workers to create unfair situations.
One notable instance, according to news reports, occurred with Jimmy John’s, the fast food sandwich chain. Jimmy John’s essentially prohibited any departing employees from working for another fast food restaurant within two miles for two years after quitting — a scenario that is far from the detailed technical work envisioned in the law. After much negative publicity and a legal investigation, Jimmy John’s officially stopped asking employees to sign these non-compete agreements.
Some states are now getting proactive and taking steps to curtail the abuse of non-compete agreements. One of the most recent states is Maryland.
Maryland’s New Law