Question: I have been employed in a doctor’s office now for four years. Just last week I was told that if I want to keep my job, I have to sign an agreement that says if I ever leave, or get fired, I won’t work in a doctor’s office for three years. What can I do?
Answer: In Georgia, agreements like the one you are being asked to sign (lawyers call them “restrictive covenants” or “non-compete agreements”) are closely scrutinized by the courts, because of how unequal employers and employees are in “bargaining power.” The courts in Georgia are also skeptical of these agreements because they restrain people’s freedom.
In Georgia, non-compete agreements are enforced only if the agreement is strictly limited as to (1) how long the restriction lasts, (2) the territory covered, and (3) how reasonable the restriction is considering its effect on your life. If a non-compete agreement is found by a Georgia court to unduly restrict your ability to make a living, it generally will invalidate the agreement.
So, you might ask, “What should I do?” I think you have two choices:
(1) Refuse to sign the agreement, and possibly lose your job; or
(2) Sign the agreement, hopefully work there a good long time, and if and when you leave, speak with the doctor, and explain to him or her what you learned there, and request his or her agreement to, in effect, leave you alone. Assure the doctor that you will do no harm to his or her practice, or reputation, and you would like them to do no harm to you, either. You might tell the doctor that, since the restriction is so long, and so unreasonable a burden on you, it will surely be thrown out of court if he or she foolishly goes to court. Then you should promptly follow up what you said with the same message in a letter, sent by Certified Mail or Federal Express.
I can’t tell you what to do, or give you legal counsel, but if you were my sister, or my client, I would suggest choice number two.
Have you received a letter from your former employer’s attorney demanding you “Cease and Desist?” Are you concerned you might receive one? We offer a Model Letter entitled “Response to Attorney’s ‘Cease and Desist’ Letter Alleging Non-Compete Violation.” It shows you “What to Say, and How to Say It.™” To obtain a copy for your adaptation and use, just [click here.] Delivered by Email – Instantly!
Don’t live in fear. Don’t work in fear. When it comes to non-compete agreements, in general, Georgia law is quite reasonable, and on the side of those who seek only to honestly work.
Hope that helps. Really do.
Best, Al Sklover
© 2009 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.