A Weekly Q&A Column About Professionalism, Etiquette and Problems in the Workplace
by Sue Morem
Before You Sign That Paper...
Dear Sue: I work for a company that has decided to implement a "non-compete" agreement with its employees. Many of us have been with the company for over five years and do
not want to sign the agreement. However, we have been advised that we would be terminated if we did not sign it.
This is a very confusing agreement that requires a six-month period in which we could not work in a related field after leaving the company.
We all are wondering if it is legal for our employer to force us to sign a non-compete agreement. And what will happen if only some of the employees sign the agreement? Any help you can
provide is appreciated.
Sue Says: Unfortunately, there may not be much you can do, but it is not surprising that you are taken off guard by the sudden request to sign a non-compete after five years of
I asked Lewis B. Gardner, an employment attorney with Greenberg Traurig in Tysons Corner, Virginia, to help answer your question. He said that in most states, an employer's promise of
continued employment upon signing an agreement generally is sufficient enough to support the request to sign a non-compete agreement.
Generally, an employer has the right to terminate an "at-will" employee (one without an employment contract) for any reason, at any time -- which could include firing someone for
refusing to sign an agreement. The number of employees who sign the agreement has nothing to do with its lawfulness or enforceability.
Before signing the agreement (if you decide to), you may want to have an attorney look it over. And, since a number of you are uncomfortable with this request, consider approaching management
with your concerns. Perhaps after you hear their reasons for the agreement it won't seem so threatening.
You have worked at this company for five years and potentially could be there many more. Are you happy? Do you see yourself staying there long-term?
The answer to these questions may help you decide what action to take. Whatever you do, take your time and don't jump to any conclusions or make any decisions in haste.
Dear Sue: I have an employee who has received free tickets to a concert. This person is a good employee and really wants to attend the concert.
However, the company has a policy requiring a two-week notice when taking time off or leaving early, so that arrangements can be made to cover their shift.
Unfortunately, she has only given me a three-day notice, and I can't find anyone to cover her shift.
She is a good employee, and although I would like to give in and let her go, I am concerned about future problems as a result. Should I stand firm and take the chance that I might lose a good
Sue Says: You need to ask your employee the question you are asking me. Remind her about the policy and how much you value her as an employee. Tell her you don't want to lose her, but
are concerned that if you make an exception for her, everyone will expect you to do the same for others. Then ask just how important going to this concert is to her.
Her response will help you determine what to do. If there is a way you can make an exception without repercussions, then it would be very nice of you to accommodate her. If that is not
possible, do let her know how sorry you are that you can't help her.
Encourage her to make plans in advance whenever possible. Sometimes, just knowing someone else cares and understands helps. Let her know that you do care and that you realize this is
important to her - then do whatever you can to accommodate her request.
Dear Sue: My manager frequently complains about my poor communication skills. Even though I am technically very good, his comments feel demoralizing and make me very unhappy.
This is a good company and I don't want to resign because of this manager. But day by day it is becoming very difficult to work for him and listening to his complaints. What should I do?
Sue Says: No one likes to be criticized and it can hurt, but even if his approach or manner doesn't seem like it, he may be trying to help you. You don't deserve to be picked on, but
constructive criticism can be very valuable.
Good communication skills are important. If you haven't already, ask him to be specific about his comments - what does he feel you are doing wrong? What would he like you to do about it?
When you let him know that you take his comments seriously and want to improve, hopefully, he will be supportive. However, even if he isn't, you can still work on improving your overall
Be grateful someone has been able to identify an area for you to develop. You have know idea how many people never know why they aren't excelling, because no one will be honest with them.
Read some books or listen to tapes on the subject. Use this as an opportunity to expand your knowledge. Good luck.
Sue Morem is a professional speaker, trainer and syndicated columnist. She
is author of the newly released
101 Tips for Graduates and
How to Gain the Professional Edge, Second Edition. You can contact her by email at
firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her web site at
Send Sue your questions by clicking here:
For more Ask Sue articles, click here.