5 Legal Tips When Switching Jobs
- Investigate any restrictive agreements with your company.
It is very important to know whether or not any agreements exist between you and your employer which might restrict your ability to move to a new position. Restrictive agreements include, non-solicitation of customers, vendors, or co-workers; confidentiality and non-disclosure; non-competition; and other agreements, clauses or terms, which seek to restrict your ability to work for another company or start your own business. These agreements are sometimes standalone agreements called, non-competition agreements, non-disclosure agreements (NDA), and/or confidentiality agreements. Sometimes they are sections or clauses of more broad agreements such as, employment agreements, stock purchase agreements, shareholder agreements, by-laws, partnership agreements, operating agreements, stock redemption agreements, or any other plan or agreement you may have with your company.
Ideally, you would have a copy of these agreements before committing to a voluntary move. Often, companies require employees to sign these agreements during new employee onboarding and never provide a copy to the employee. If you can obtain copies of these agreements before you make a move, without raising red flags about your plans, you should do so. There are no standard versions of these agreements. Each situation is unique. Typically, each agreement is unique. If you are involuntarily fired, ask for a copy of all agreements between you and the company. Frequently, folks forget they signed an agreement. Forewarned is forearmed.
- Be honest about your plans.
There is no requirement for you to volunteer to your company why you are leaving or to detail your plans. If asked, however, do not lie. Your situation is unique, but rarely does it work out in the long term to lie to your company about your plans. If you end up working for a competing company or starting a competing company and you told your old boss, “I am going to work for my brother-in-law” (in a non-competing field) your motives and intentions will be automatically suspect. All too often, lies in an exit interview (even lies told to avoid confrontation or to be polite) plus other factors directly cause the former employer to launch an expensive and aggressive enforcement action.
- Divest of all your employer’s data, documents and materials.
In the “old days” when you quit or were fired, your company might ask you to return paper files, notebooks, training documents, sales materials, or other property. Along with credit cards and a company car or laptop, you could physically gather and inventory all the company property you possessed and return it neatly. Today, return or retention of company property is not so straightforward.
Today, most company property is in the form of electronic data in various forms. Many sophisticated companies have rigorous e-data policies on the use of company data and hardware. Most do not. Employees have company data on company provided computers, phones, tablets, thumb drive, etc. They also possess copies of company data on such personal devices as well.
Having a pre-exit plan and agreement on the return and destruction of company data is crucial. The return and destruction of such data should be done pursuant to a written agreement and well documented. –This is truly a complex area. Many an innocent transition has blown way out of proportion because of a failure to adequately return and destroy company data.
Just as in the old days, you must continue to deal with non-electronic company property such as files, phones, laptops, tablets, credit cards, cars, sales materials, etc. Sometimes the company may posses some of your property. Exchange of these items should also be pursuant to a written agreement and well documented.
- Be nice.
It can’t hurt to be nice. No matter what the circumstances, be the bigger person and keep the transaction civil. It might temporarily feel better to tell off your buffoon of a boss, but such conduct rarely yields long-term rewards. You never know when your path will cross with a former boss, co-worker, or partner. As Vito Corleone in The Godfather would say, “never tell anybody outside the family what you are thinking.”
- Give plenty of notice with transition.
Your professional reputation will be enhanced if you are known as a “stand up person.” Be willing to help make sure you leave your employer in a better place than you found it. Often, your company might refuse your offer to stay on to help, but it is nice for you to offer to do so. In the long run a couple of weeks or even a month of follow up either on site or via telephone can go a long way to make sure your former company and co-workers speak well of you for years to come. Nothing leaves a worse taste in the mouth of former bosses and co-workers than to leave them, “high and dry” for greener pastures.
Now, if the working environment is toxic or physically dangerous, you should use your best judgment about whether you should leave without notice. Your physical and mental safety take precedence over your professional courtesies.