Some people may say I would think you would want to avoid this topic since this is one of the reasons that non-compete agreements exist. My feeling is that I have no problem talking about this because like the other topics that I’ll write about, this is not cut and dry. I will keep this separate from the trade secrets questions since that will follow in the next post.
Before there were non-compete agreements where employees were told that they would be fired and not able to work in the industry for two years, I guess you could say that there were a lot of lawsuits when people stole information from their employers. Here is one case that I knew of.
There were two dentists. They were partners for many years and one of them decided to go on his own. The other dentist said it was okay but what he didn’t know at the time was that his partner was rifling through his filing cabinet and photocopying all the clients names and addresses. Once he started his own practice, he sent postcards to all the clients letting him know where his office is. His partner found out and asked him how he could steal the client names. His answer was they were my clients also.
I don’t know the result of the lawsuit but unfortunately, there were many others like this and it still goes on today. My hairdresser told me that when she owned her own business, she had an employee that went through her appointment book and took the names and addresses of all the clients so she could call them because she was starting her own business. She basically said the same thing the dentist said and got fired. Evidently, she had worked at other hair salons and did the same thing.
Of course, as a result of this, we have hairdressers who are on a non-compete agreement that states that they can be fired at any time for any reason and can’t work in a salon that has a radius of 10-50 miles. I knew of a hairdresser who had 50 miles on hers.
I think the bigger question on the hairdresser is let’s say she contacted some of her clients. Would they all follow her, especially if they knew that she stole the names from her former boss? I know that I would ask her how she got my number since I would call the salon if I wanted to cancel my appointment. It’s hard for me to believe that the clients would not be outraged if they knew that she was doing this but would some of them say I don’t care, I don’t trust anyone else to cut my hair even though that person doesn’t seem trustworthy.
I put a post at the bottom of this regarding a salesman who worked at a cleaning supply company. When he went to work for a competitor, he stole a computer and some other valuable information. His non-compete was three years and he was obviously sued for violating his non-compete agreement as well as stealing the computer and other information.
Maybe it’s me but I’ve never had the temptation of stealing information when I went to a competitor before there were non-compete agreements. I would think that it is a lack of respect for your new employer. In addition, I can picture him looking at me after I showed him information that I stole and yelling at me saying I didn’t ask you to steal information. What, do you think that impresses me? What kind of person do you think I am? I have ethics. You know what. I think I made a mistake in hiring you. You’re fired.
Yes, I would never think twice about stealing information because that’s how I think the conversation would go. In addition, I never stole anything in my life and my parents never felt they had the need to let me know that it’s wrong to steal. Maybe other people feel differently and they think it’s okay since we do have people who do go to jail for this.
Sure, on the other hand, I knew someone who did in fact steal files and information and brought them to his new employer. His employer didn’t seem to mind but I can tell you that that person didn’t last more than six months at that job. That employer has non-compete agreements.
So, if you think I have sympathy for companies who cry foul when someone steals from them, I don’t because of that reason. If you’re not going to do what most managers do in that situation and fire the employee, then you deserve what you get if it’s done to you. If you did that, then maybe we wouldn’t have non-compete agreements.
At the same time, I think it’s safe to say that most people do not steal information and feel the same way about their employers that I do. That’s why it offends me when I read an article about a non-compete lawyer that says what if an employee is on the verge of being fired and decides to steal information before he goes. Yes, what if that were to happen? Yes, do we think so little of managers and companies that they would interview someone, much less hire them just because they stole information. Maybe my answer would be that that lawyer doesn’t have a clue as to what goes on in a company and it’s a reason not to have non-compete agreements.
I think that a lot of this is common sense. Yes, I feel that there are employees that are honest like me and would never even think of taking information with them since it doesn’t belong to them. Are there people who would do this? I would be naive if I said no.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of dishonest people in the world. People like Bernie Madoff. Yes, people who are so selfish that they only think of themselves when they steal information that doesn’t belong to them. So it’s with a great deal of anger that I say that thousands of people across this country are paying for that because today there are non-compete agreements and employers and non-compete lawyers feel that it’s justified.
Maybe it’s also important to say that stealing is a part of life and yes, we have to deal with it, but what are the solutions. I knew of a landlord who owned an apartment and rented it out to someone. That person decided after six months not to pay rent anymore. It took the landlord over a year to evict him. He didn’t get the money back. It’s a common problem today with a lot of people with landlords and people who rent apartments. As a result, rents go up and the people who want the rent the apartment suffer because of this. So yes, people like me pay for the problems that other dishonest people create when they do this.
Is the solution in this case to start non-compete agreements that say that someone can be fired at any time for any reason and can’t work in the industry for two years or within a 10-50 mile radius. Is it right to put the burden of this on the employee so he or she can sacrifice their education, their finances, and their future just to make these non-compete agreements work. For the moment, that’s what thousands of people like me are doing because maybe 10% of the population stole information that didn’t belong to them.