When you're excited about accepting a new position, you're probably not thinking about the day you'll be quitting that job. But along with an offer letter, it's not uncommon to be handed a "non-compete" agreement.
A 2016 report from the U.S. Department of the Treasury cites research showing about 30 million American workers are currently under a non-compete agreement.
These agreements typically restrict an employee from joining another company within the same industry and within a certain geographic area for a specified period, "if the worker's new role will put the old employer's trade secrets, customer goodwill or other recognized business interests" at risk, explains Russell Beck, a Boston attorney who runs FairCompetitionLaw.com.
It's easy to see why a company wouldn't want a former worker to contact its best clients, saying they could be better served by his new firm, or to disclose a secret formula to a competitor. The Treasury report, however, emphasizes that sometimes employers ask workers that don't have access to information that's valuable to competitors to sign a non-compete.
Moreover, each state as its own laws governing what restrictions these agreements can impose.
Here, some advice from Beck for what to do when a job offer comes with a non-compete:
1. Take time to understand.
Even if an employer wants you to start soon, don't hurriedly sign, but instead read the agreement carefully. Often, the language is clear, but if not, you may need to take it to an attorney.
2. Ask for changes.
The higher the level of the employee or the more valuable a worker will be to a company, the more a company should be amenable to changes. Beck, for instance, has seen companies willing to shorten the period of time for which a non-compete would restrict a worker.
3. Take it seriously.
"A lot of people think these agreements aren't enforceable," Beck says, but many firms will take the necessary measures to ensure the non-compete is enforced.