Thursday, October 26, 2006

Maryland Non-Competes: Things to consider before you sign one.

Starting with the assumption that reasonable non-compete agreements are enforceable in Maryland, what should you do if your employer asks you to sign one? If possible, you should do the following:

1. Try to get out of signing the agreement in the first place.

2. Try to narrow the agreement's terms. Find out which competitors and geographic ares your employer really cares about. Limit the agreement's reach to those terms.

3. Suggest that what your employer really wants is a non-solicitation agreement, i.e., your promise not t0 raid the company of its key employees.

4. Demand compensation. If your employer wants you to get out the industry for a period, your employer should pay for it.

5. Hire a lawyer to review your agreement and meet with you before signing away your right to a livelihood. Employers get legal advice -- so should you. Employers often put highly unfavorable terms -- such as attorney-fee shifting provisions -- in non compete agreements. Consult counsel to know your rights.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Q: Can you leverage your way out of a Maryland Non-Compete? A: Maybe.

As shown by my posts about non-competes in Maryland, reasonable non-compete agreements are generally enforceable. (Further, even if a non-compete agreement is overbroad, many Maryland Judges believe they have the power to re-write such an agreement to make it enforceable). So, can you get out of them or limit them? Maybe. Just as you and your employee can agree to enter a non-compete; you and your employer can agree to modify a non-compete. The more leverage you have, the more likely you can modify a non-compete to your liking. How can you generate leverage? Here are a few ideas:

  1. It can be a very expensive proposition for an employer and an employee to litigate to determine if a non-compete is really enforceable. You may convince your employer to reduce your non-compete obligations by agreeing not to initiate litigation.
  2. Find out what your employer's real interests are. It may not want you working for its established competitors and may not care if you are working for a start up.
  3. Give a little. Do you have something the employer wants, like money it owes you for severance? You might offer something of value in exchange for a release from any non-compete obligations.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Court Enforces Agreement Barring Employee from Working for a Competitor in North America and Mexico for Two Years

The Baltimore Circuit Court permanently enjoined James Braithwaite from working a competitor of his former employer in this decision. Braithwaite signed a non-competition agreement that forbade him from working for any employer in liquid filling system industry located in the United States or Mexico for a period of two years. The Court characterized the industry as "highly specialized" and "relatively small." As such, the Court ruled that the non-competition agreement was reasonable in duration and geographic scope.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Fail to Pay Maryland State Income Tax -- Lose Your Professional License

In 2003, the General Assembly enacted a law that provides that individuals who do not pay their taxes cannot renew their State professional licenses. See 2003
Laws of Maryland ch. 203 § 24.

Along comes Dr. Knoche, a dentist, who did not pay any state income tax between 1980 and 1989. In July 2004, the Dental Board denied Dr. Knoche's application to renew his dental licences.

In Knoche v. State, the Court of Special Appeals upheld the Constitutionality of the law and told Dr. Knoche that he was out of luck.

Friday, October 13, 2006

In 5-5 Split, Fourth Circuit Denies En Banc Review of Black Monkeys Case

By reporting to your boss that one co-worker called African-Americans "black monkeys" and "black apes," are you opposing discrimination in the workplace? (An employer cannot retaliate against an employee for opposing workplace discrimination.) Two Fourth Circuit judges (out of a three judge panel) had ruled that reporting a single racist comment is not sufficient opposition to be entitled to Title VII's anti-retaliation provision. See here, here, and here.

Now, by a vote of 5 to 5, the full Fourth Circuit denied en banc review of Jordan v. Alternative Resources Corp. En banc review (that is: review by all of the judges on the court) requires a majority vote. As a result, employers in Maryland are free to fire employees who complain that a co-worker made a racially derogatory remark.

I imagine this case is headed to the United States Supreme Court.