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I live in the UK and have recently resigned from my job. My employer is now asking me to sign a document, which basically says that I will not sue them, have no claims against them and also reconfirms the notice period and non compete written in my contract. They offer nothing in return for signing this document. Our non compete is quite long by industry standards, so it is not clear if this would be fully enforceable for someone with my seniority. I will join a competitor after the non compete is over and my new employer is happy for me to sit out the full non compete, so in theory there would be no problem to agree with the non compete. However, I do not want to sign anything I don't have to.

Do I have to sign this? Can they force me to sign it?

Thanks.

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Generally you don't have to sign any contract, unless it's a condition of you getting something.

If they aren't offering you anything in return, or if that something isn't worth the restrictions the contract places on you, don't sign it.

Slavery is illegal in civilized countries, so they can't refuse your resignation just because you don't sign a new contract which doesn't give you something acceptable in return.

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  • It's may be worth pointing out in your answer that, generally, if there was no consideration what was signed is likely not even a contract and may not even be enforcable. – cjs Apr 12 at 5:29
  • @cjs I remembered that from some contract law classes back in college, but I didn't want to take that deep of a dive into it. – user1666620 Apr 12 at 12:21
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Do I have to sign this? Can they force me to sign it?

No, you do not have to sign it, and they cannot force you to do so. They will simply note your refusal to sign the document and file it away.

Double check to make sure you are not being offered anything at all (severance, recommendations, etc) in return before you decide either way.

If you refuse to sign, you would have a slightly better chance to attempt to claim lack of knowledge about the notice period and non-compete agreement. But you would still be unlikely to win against a lawsuit if it's actually already written into your contract. Don't make any assumptions in this regard without first consulting a good lawyer.

The document is pretty standard, but signing it is not required.

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    just asking, if it's ineffective, why is it pretty standard ? – Whirl Mind Apr 10 at 19:59
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    Pretty sure it would be illegal in the UK to condition the giving of a recommendation on something like this. I'm also pretty sure that "will not sue" clauses in contracts of employment are unenforceable under EU law. – Persistence Apr 11 at 16:28
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In the UK, restriction of trade is not permitted. Non-compete clauses that stop you taking customers or IP with you are totally enforceable, but they cannot stop you getting a similar job with a competitor. There have been a number of tests of this. You are perfectly entitled to tell your company that you will not be following that, and to tell your new company that you'll start the Monday after you leave.

If your existing company wants you to stay out of the job market for some time, they are entitled to give you what's known as gardening leave. You remain an employee for that period, on full pay (or whatever you negotiate), and you simply enjoy not working for that time. If they want to prevent your skills/abilities/knowledge being used by a competitor, they need to pay you for the privilege.

As for the "you won't sue them" part, that's not legally enforceable either. Many people only feel able to sue an employer after they've left, and constructive dismissal for example basically requires you to leave.

In short, it's a sign the company is trying to get one over on you. Don't let them.

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    This is the correct answer as the UK has better labour laws for employees than the US and most of the answers are from US posters here. – Dave3of5 Apr 11 at 10:53
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I actually signed twice that I will not sue the company, and that I have no claims against them. Both times this was condition for receiving severance pay that was significantly higher than what was legally required. The "not suing" had exceptions: For example if I visited the office once more to return company property that was at my home, and I slipped on a slippery floor and broke a leg, I could still sue them for that. But as one employment lawyer told me "if you sign this, and then you find out there was a conspiracy in HR to get rid of all male employees, you won't be able to sue them anymore". I took that risk :-)

Your contractual relationship with the company may last longer than your employment. For example NDAs, generally keeping company secrets secret even without NDA, if you are asked to be a witness when the company is sued etc. But nobody can force you to add new contractual obligations.

So signing an NDA after leaving or signing a non-compete agreement after leaving is not on. Making it a condition for a voluntary severance payment or offering you payment in general for signing is legal.

Since you have to return company property anyway, I think they can ask you to sign that you returned it. They can ask you to sign that you received severance pay when you received it. They can ask you to sign that you know there is a non-compete in your contract, they cannot ask you to sign that this non-compete is enforcable (I hope you see the difference).

If they threaten to fire you if you don't sign things that you have to sign, you would be signing under duress and any court would throw it out.

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    "Since you have to return company property anyway, I think they can ask you to sign that you returned it." Actually, this would make more sense the other way around (i.e., they signing a receipt confirming that you returned all company property and giving it to you). – Heinzi Apr 10 at 19:39
  • @Heinzi Sometimes they don't know exactly what you have at home. – gnasher729 Apr 11 at 14:03
  • They don't need to? They should still be able to hand something signed to the employee that says "Company X received A, B and C in working order from Employee Y" definitely a good thing to get given the number of companies I've seen/heard of claiming returned equipment was never returned! – HomoTechsual Apr 11 at 14:53
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    I think you're both right: It makes sense for the company to confirm that they received A, B and C, and it makes sense for the former employee to confirm that, to the best of their knowledge, they don't have company property lying around at home any more. That having been said, a company should have a list of who has which item (for various reasons, including security and accounting), so that the latter isn't necessary. – Heinzi Apr 11 at 15:39
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You are entitled to seek independent legal advice and can tell them so. You are also entitled to modify the agreement ( which is a contract to which you will be bound if you do sign it!) .

They are asking you to sign a document beyond the employer employee relationship- which from what I see is a relationship that has ended as you’ve resigned. This is a document that is of benefit to them, not to you. Please do not sign this.

To put the concept in other scenarios say you get divorced, have legally divided your property and you’re in the process of moving to a new apartment. Your ex shows up with a document he wants you to sign that says he can take your car every weekend for the next two years. He will pay for the petrol but no car for you every weekend...

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  • RE: "You are entitled to seek independent legal advice and can tell them so." - It is highly unlikely that the document includes a provision to pay the employee's lawyer to review the document. So the employee will most likely have to pay for his own lawyer. – MaxW Apr 11 at 5:11
  • @MaxW Extremely unlikely, yet my last two companies paid for an independent lawyer. – gnasher729 Apr 11 at 14:15
  • My previous employer paid for my lawyer to look at the one they asked me to sign – Ian Turton Apr 11 at 17:52
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They offer nothing in return for signing this document.

That's the answer to the question. They have no means to force you to sign it, there's no benefit to you to sign it, and it might not even be enforceable even if you did sign it.

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Ask them how much they will pay you to sign it. This is where it gets interesting. If they wont pay you then that tells you its not worth it to sign it. Not to them, and not for you.

If they are willing to pay you to sign it, then its probably worth more if you don't accept their first offer of payment. Its probably worth more to have you sign it.

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Generally the signature on a form you describe is a condition for them to give you something. You state in the question that you recently resigned, and they are not offering you anything in return for your signature.

Keep in mind that if you are still in the notice period they can be expected to hold over you your remaining paychecks. They probably make paying during the notice period conditional on your following their instructions. Failure to do so can have them terminate your employment that day. That could costs you months of income.

Of course if you are fired that can impact the non-compete clause and other items.

This is probably not the last piece of paper you and the company will have to sign during this process. There is the form to get the payout for unused holidays and sick leave. They will have to sign a form showing that you have returned the laptop, phone, credit card, office key, and parking pass. Refusing to sign forms early in the process can make getting them to sign the later forms very difficult.

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    I don't think it's likely that a court of law would find contracts signed under duress as legally binding. Contracts often require consideration, meaning that the employee must get something in return. As they are already entitled to their paychecks, it's not likely such a contract would be valid. In some countries, it would be considered a breach of employment law to withhold paychecks over refusing to sign additional contracts with the company. – Gregory Currie Apr 10 at 14:52
  • They are entitled to paychecks for the hours they work, but if they cross a line they may find out they are dismissed immediately. – mhoran_psprep Apr 10 at 15:01
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    UK does not have at-will employment. If an employee is fired, there must be a suitable reason. This would not be the case here. – Gregory Currie Apr 10 at 15:24
  • This is a poor answer for a question that is clearly UK specific. – HomoTechsual Apr 11 at 14:54

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