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I just received a call from my previous employer based in the USA which I had recently left. I left this employer for another employer (in the same industry) in the UK.

In this call, my previous employer basically explained that I had a clause in my contract which stated that I was unable to work in the same industry due to a restraint period. I looked at this contract carefully, and yes, it did have a restraint period, but this restraint period was clearly stated within the USA only.

I explained to my previous employer that this was within the USA only, however the previous employer wasn't even listening to it and went on about how I was in the wrong etc.

What I'm really worried about now, is my previous employer going to my current employer and telling them a whole lot of incorrect information and making things up about me, which wouldn't surprise me. For example, I'm worried my previous employer might go to my current employer and say he's in breach of contract, didn't follow the contract etc.

Due to working from home and the pandemic, I also still hold my previous company laptop and ID card (which I have emailed multiple times to return but have not had any reply).

Should I inform my current employer anything, e.g pre-alerting them that the restraint period does not apply to me, a declaration that I am no longer working for the old company (in case the old company makes up something saying I still work for the company as I'm holding the laptop), email stating that I have not worked for the company for a certain amount of time etc?

Appreciate your advice on this as I'm so worried they may say something which would affect my new job.

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  • 6
    your contract employer wouldn't be in breach of contract, because he didn't sign anything with your previous employer. You would be. You holding your previous Laptop and ID is troublesome. Doesn't your previous employer have a physical address where you could send something to, regardless if they respond to emails or not? You should send it there (with confirmation) and simply send an email informing them that you finally send it because you received no further instructions.
    – Benjamin
    Jul 14 at 7:13
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    For information, non-compete clauses (which is what you are talking about) are generally considered difficult or impossible to enforce in the UK. This would be true even if your contract said it applied worldwide. This wouldn't stop your ex employer from suing your personally I suppose but it means your new, UK, employer is very unlikely to care one whit about any complaints your ex-employer might make to them.
    – Eric Nolan
    Jul 14 at 9:14
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    How exactly did your previous employer find out that you have a new job in the same industry? In order for your previous employer to contact your current employer they would have to know that information. You really should address the fact you still have company hardware, it being a pandemic, isn’t an excuse. That should be something you work on daily
    – Donald
    Jul 14 at 10:51
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    I live in EU and at least in my country even if you have such clause in your contract it is applicable only if the second company is a direct competitor of the first. Otherwise they cannot take any legal actions against you and this clause is considered invalid, because they cannot forbid you from practicing your profession. Jul 14 at 13:52
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    It's probably obvious, but just in case it isn't: do not use your former company's laptop for work now. If you do so, stop doing it ASAP. Jul 14 at 15:33
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Your company is bullying you and the best way would be to bully back.

Send them a certified letter that states:

  1. That you are 100% compliant with the contract you have signed and that you consider them claiming otherwise to be libel.
  2. You will not be taking phone calls or e-mails from them but you will only accept communication by certified mail.
  3. That you you do not authorize them sharing any information with your new employer or any other employer. Should they choose to make false claims about you to your new employer you will consider this harassments and will take legal action.
  4. Unless they send you clear instructions on how to return the laptop and the ID card at no cost to you by date XYZ, you will destroy both and send them proof of destruction.

If you want to go even stronger, have this written up by a lawyer with a lawyer's signature on it. The goal here is NOT to take any legal action, but to look strong and not intimidated to get the company to back off and leave you alone.

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  • 4
    OP needs to phone a lawyer (/solicitor if in UK!) Hopefully the lawyer shares your opinion.
    – Fattie
    Jul 14 at 15:27
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    This. My partner once got a letter claiming he was breaking an NDA about some work he had done for a client. He paid a lawyer a small amount to write them a letter that he wasn't breaking any NDAs and if they continued to tell people he was, they would be sued for libel. They stopped immediately. Lawyer letters are not expensive and they work remarkably well. Jul 14 at 15:47
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    Also note that it is much easier to prove libel in the UK than in the USA. In the UK, you don't have to prove the libel against you is false - if it damages your reputation, even if it is true, that is sufficient proof.
    – alephzero
    Jul 14 at 17:23
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    @alephzero I don't think that's true. Before 2013 it was called "fair comment", and currently under the Defamation Act of 2013 it's called "honest opinion", but in either case making a defensibly true statement cannot be considered libel in the UK. Otherwise people would be going to prison over negative Google Reviews or critical investigative journalism.
    – J...
    Jul 14 at 19:07
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I had the same clause in a german company and it stated clearly and explicitely "inside the Federal Republic of Germany". Means the clause is null and void outside, and besides it, I don't see how their legal system can oblige you to anything outside of the US.

You should speak to your current employer, show them the clause and ask for legal advice. Your company should either have a legal team, or hire a lawyer to check up on that.

The fact that you still have their laptop and ID should not pose a problem because you have evidence you wanted to send it back but they didn't respond to that. The laptop also has probably some IT management where they can just lock you out if it poses a problem for them.

Let your current employer know, and let them handle it. Usually its nothing more than a scare tactic of the last employer, been there, done that. But in the end no legal grounds for them to do anything.

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    "You should speak to your current employer, show them the clause and ask for legal advice." I strongly disagree. Do not involve your new employer. It's between you and the previous company. Informing them is okay.
    – Chris
    Jul 14 at 15:21
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    @Chris I told my future employer about my situation before I was hired, they got me in written from their legal team that such a clause that my previos boss put in my contract is illegal by german labour law and that in case my ex boss would try anything they would happily defend me.
    – Chapz
    Jul 15 at 17:26

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