In a new low for management side, the Wall Street Journal exposed the ugly practice of intern noncompetes. That's right. Intern. Noncompetes.
Let me get this straight. A college or high school student goes to work for little or no pay, and they are handed a bunch of papers to sign. They're so thrilled at the opportunity to work for this company, they don't read. They just sign. They never get a copy of what they signed.
Surprise! After they graduate, they get their dream job in the industry, and along comes the nastygram. "Dear John, You aren't allowed to work at your dream job because you signed a noncompete. You can't work in your field for two more years. By then, all the entry level jobs will be taken. Enjoy your work at McDonald's flipping burgers." And the letter to John's employer: "Dear New Employer: You hired John. He signed this noncompete. If you don't fire John, we'll sue you, your mother, your dog, and everyone you ever met."
So John is fired, and he's fighting a big corporation from the position of being unemployed. The new employer now has a bad taste in its mouth for John, so he's lost that opportunity. He's out of his field and unable to fight. Lesson: read everything before you sign, and keep copies. If you can't live with it, don't sign.
Yes, there are defenses to noncompetes. But to fight them, you have to be able to afford an attorney and court costs. Most people, especially recent college grads, can't afford that.
My state's Senator, Marco Rubio (with whom I almost never agree, except now) has proposed a bill that would prohibit noncompetes for hourly employees. That would be a great start. Democrats have repeatedly tried and failed to limit noncompetes over the years, so maybe a Republican can get his colleagues to listen.
Some states, like Massachusetts, have also banned noncompetes for hourly and low wage employees. Illinois banned noncompetes for low wage workers. California, Oklahoma and North Dakota ban most noncompetes. There are lots of bills pending that would address problems with noncompetes in various states.
I think luring interns in with the promise of job opportunity and college credit, then making them sign away their right to work in their field, is unconscionable. If you agree, support any elected official's efforts to limit or ban noncompetes. And vote with your money: don't do business with companies that have obnoxious noncompetes for interns and low wage employees.
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