A BYU-Idaho student graduates with specialized skills in a field they love. They work five years for a wonderful company that treats them and their family well. But suddenly, the economy tanks and their employer is forced to let them go.
Frantically, the graduate seeks other opportunities for employment in their industry. It’s difficult to find another job that utilizes the same skills they learned in college, but after a few weeks they think they’ve found a good one. They apply and are hired back into their chosen industry.
And that is the moment they are sued for breaching a noncompete agreement.
We, the editorial board of Scroll, stand in support of legislation that protects employees from unfair noncompete clauses and encourage students to recognize the leverage they have when prompted to sign one.
Additionally, we would encourage all legislators to re-examine state noncompete laws and push for changes when the current law unreasonably restricts an employee’s right to work within their chosen field.
Being fired from a job should not be akin to being fired from an entire industry, even temporarily.
The narrative is far too common. If an employee signs a legal noncompete agreement as a term of their employment, they may not be allowed to work for another company in the same market for anywhere from three months to two years, depending on the contract.
If an employee breaks this agreement, they may be sued by their previous employer.
This essentially strong-arms some employees out of their respective industries unless they move to a new industry, move to a new state or tolerate a significant time gap on their resume.
That is why the responsibility to stand up against noncompete clauses must rest with BYU-I students who are not yet bound by them. When state legislators work to ban noncompete agreements in a given field, students preparing to enter that field should be the first to notice and voice support for these movements.
Luckily, legislators in a number of states are standing up against these kinds of contracts. Rep. Mike Schultz is currently sponsoring House Bill 241 in the state of Utah.
The bill would effectively make noncompete contracts among Utah’s news broadcast employees illegal.
The bill was introduced to the Utah House of Representatives on Jan. 25 and successfully made it to the Utah Senate floor on Feb. 21.
This should be big news for broadcast employees, but there’s a problem.
Those employed by the four major TV news companies in Utah were unable to fairly inform the public on the bill which pertains to their own industry, likely because their owners wanted to retain noncompete agreements in their employees’ contracts.
Ironically, employees in the news broadcasting field are generally obligated to inform the public when the rights of the public are threatened. But, if a journalist works for a news company that requires or supports noncompete clauses, those journalists will likely face unemployment if they try to speak out in favor of anti- noncompete legislation.
These employees are essentially denied their freedom of speech on an issue affecting their own careers because they had already agreed to those terms and conditions when their employer held them over their heads in the hiring office.
For journalists in this predicament, it’s a case of “they can help inform others, but they cannot help themselves.” Those tasked with giving a voice to the voiceless have themselves become the voiceless on this issue in Utah.
But it’s not just broadcast journalists who usually run into problems related to noncompete agreements. Although these clauses are actually most prevalent in the technology, engineering and computer industries, they can be found nearly anywhere.
In June 2016, the popular sandwich shop Jimmy John’s agreed to stop making its employees sign noncompete agreements after it was discovered the fast food chain had imposed a lengthy two-year rule in its contracts, according to CNBC.
For two years after leaving the business, employees could not move to a competitor or any other food service chain that made more than 10 percent of its profits from sandwich sales within two miles of a Jimmy John’s location.
The chain sandwich shop removed noncompete clauses from its employee contracts after the New York State attorney general’s office declared the restrictive agreements were unlawful.
Future employers of college students are wary of these legal cases and would prefer their noncompete contract policies not be publicized. They would prefer college students remain uninformed of their right to leverage these contracts when presented at the time of hiring.
Students at BYU-I will work in a diverse range of industries. They must be informed, and they must encourage legislators in Idaho, Utah and elsewhere to stand up for employees who are signing these unfair noncompete agreements.
If not, they may find themselves at the mercy of one.