About two years ago I started work for a small web development firm as the second employee. Since we've grown a bit with a few hirings and a few firings to 5 employees.
This is my first real job in the industry that counts, and the experience is invaluable; however, I've grown to dislike my boss. I'm not unhappy with my wage, but I don't appreciate being lied to (he frequently tells me I am at the median for the field, which is blatantly false, and I'm not an idiot, or that I make more than he does, which doesn't even make any sense). He barely is in the office 20 hours a week, but when I pull an all-nighter or two to make sure the product is delivered on time to an extremely valuable client, he complains about paying me overtime and instructs me not to let it happen again or he'll put me on salary for the equivalent of my hourly pay.
Despite being the source of over 60% of my employer's revenue, he seems to hate this company. He masks his dislike with arguments like "they take 15 days to pay an invoice and I have to float payroll" (which, if this is really happening, I'm a bit scared to work in a company whose accountant can't finance payroll for 15 days without going into debt), or "they have too many meetings" (all of which are billable). Honestly though, it seems like he just has contempt for large corporations.
He's disrespectful to his clients and to his employees, his finances are questionable, he drinks (too much) on the job, and he has zero interest in the work I love to do for a client I've learned to cherish.
I've spent the last 16 or so months learning the ins and outs of this e-learning product and often I am answering the questions poised by their employees because I know it so thoroughly. In addition, I've headed the development of the frontend side of the application, dictating requirements in the data structures, providing documentation, and delegating tasks to other developers. I think I'd be a great asset to this company if I didn't have the distraction of an employer that is constantly putting me on other trivial tasks for small, unreliable clients and accusing me when I make up for it by working a couple extra hours every week. I'm passionate about the product itself; I love to discuss the user experience with the project management team. I just really, really want to work directly for this client.
That said, I'm not sure how to go about doing such a thing. How bad would I look to this client, telling them I want to quit their contractor and work for them? Does that portray me as disloyal? In addition, I can't just leave without my employer knowing that I'm going to work for this client, since the other two team members at my company would end up on WebEx's with me on the other end. Even worse, I signed a Confidentiality and Nonsolicitation Agreement upon employment. A friend of mine who is a lawyer said that the stipulations in the document wouldn't hold up in court, but that said, it'd no doubt be a bitter end for my current employer and I certainly want to avoid any legal troubles. Should I just give up pursuing this, since it'd violate the terms I agreed to in the first place?