Matt’s note: I suspect this post will have limited relevance to most people

Still, given my recent unfortunate employment situation I keep thinking back to this article. I increasingly believe more people (in any industry, technology or otherwise) can benefit from Joel’s advice:


NDAs and Contracts That You Should Never Sign

Over time, I’ve signed a lot of NDAs (non-disclosure agreements)… they seem to be the Silicon Valley equivalent of the Japanese business card. Some of them are short and simple, others are quite elaborate.

On a similar note, a lot of companies have the audacity to put non-compete clauses in their employment contracts. Typically, this says that you agree not to work for one of their “competitors” or even “potential competitors” (which is never very well defined) for a period, usually 1 or 2 years, after leaving the company.

This is completely outrageous. I signed such a contract at Microsoft without paying too much attention. When I left, I realized that because Microsoft has a finger in everything related to software, technically I could not work in my field AT ALL for 12 months after leaving Microsoft.

You can win on this one. Highly skilled technical employees are in too much demand, and it’s too easy to get a job. You don’t have to accept this clause in your contract. If the employer absolutely, positively insists that you promise not to go work for a competitor when you leave your job, you can tell them: “fine. You don’t want me to work for a year after I leave, that’s fine, but if I’m going to be ‘on the beach’, I want you to keep paying me my salary for one year after I leave, until I can legally get a job that you approve of.”

Another dangerous clause says that you agree not to hire, or cause to be hired, anybody from the company if you leave for a period of x months (usually 12 to 24). The idea is to prevent a group of people from leaving en-masse, and it’s to protect against the standard practice of a manager leaving a company and taking his team along with him.

This is something you’re really going to regret. Among other things, if you leave a company, then six months later someone else leaves and uses you as a reference for a new job, technically, you can’t give them one. That’s not nice.

I think that companies need to keep their employees loyal by treating them well, not by enforcing blind loyalty though a contract. I am not going to make the mistake of signing this clause again. Fortunately, with today’s shortage of qualified programmers, the balance of power today is sharply in your favor when you start a new job, and I think you have a very high chance of getting a job without signing restrictive employment clauses.

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