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I'm in the process of signing with a large tech company (think one of Google, Amazon, Microsoft, etc...), and noticed a 1-year non-compete clause in my papers.

I feel like given this company is a competitor in almost any technical field, this would prevent me from finding a CS job almost anywhere a year after quitting. Have you guys seen similar clauses? Are they standard and just not really enforced unless you're really stealing trade secrets or something?

  • It's important to consider the scope, when deciding whether you want to go with it or not. I have seen non-compete clauses covering an industry, and others covering specific product types (ie. A3/A4 printer market). – Thebluefish Oct 19 '16 at 20:09
  • Which country or state if its the USA - btw in CA its almost impossible to enforce non competes – Neuromancer Jan 27 '18 at 1:47
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While the non-compete may be a standard clause, that does not mean it is necessarily valid or enforceable. Take a read of Non-compete clause and see if your locale is mentioned with regards to validity1

I am unfortunate to live in a locale where they are enforceable. But the last time I had to sign one I talked the company down from 1 year as a part of the negotiations. Personally I disagree with them and the durations they try for, but sometimes you have to just go with it.


1. I am not a lawyer and don't even play one on TV. So get real legal advice from a real lawyer if you feel you need it

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You'll have to ask your future employer for specific clarifications. For example, if you sign up with Google to do bleeding edge SEO optimization, it's unlikely that they'll look at you moving your butt into say Microsoft's SEO division with anything but a thin skin. But if you spend a year during Cloud optimization work for Microsoft, it's unlikely that Google will object.

The devil is in the specifics. As in the specifics of how the contract is going to be interpreted when you switch to another employer to do what that other employer wants you to do.

  • 1
    The actual language in the contract is definitive, though. Not someone's opinion of how it might be interpreted in the future. If they verbally tell you that their enforcement of the clause would be limited in some way, you should push to get that actually written down in the contract. – user45590 Oct 21 '16 at 12:19
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One thing to note when it comes to non-competes is that judges love to invalidate them if they are overly broad or they prevent you from working in your chosen field altogether.

For example, if your skill set is video production, and your non-compete prevents you from working for any company that does video production, then you cant work in your field - it is extremely likely that this would be seen as overly broad and you would not be prevented by a judge from taking such a job, even though it breaches a non-compete. You have to be allowed to actually work.

The counter example is if you worked for an insurance company as an IT worker - the non-compete can prevent you working for another insurance company, but not in IT.

Personally, your situation wouldn't bother me - I would take the job and if the company took issue with my employment after them then in this case I would be comfortable telling them where to go.

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Non compete clauses are pretty common in software development.

In general, the clause should define a geographical area, a time frame and what you are agreeing to not do.

In general terms, when you find a new role, choose to work in a different market sector, and everyone's happy.

However, where it can get complicated, is where the specialist sector knowledge is valuable, such as in the investment banking sector, or where the employer has a wide presence in the market place - usually with additional restrictions on working for customers and suppliers as well.

These clauses are often worded to forbid you from competing, not from working for a competitor. In that case, you can work for a competitor - as long as you are not working in a department where your prior knowledge could benefit your new employer unfairly.

That said, at least in the U.K., non compete clauses that make it difficult to find future employment are not enforceable.

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Get a lawyer to review it. I have seen them enforced and the company has bigger pockets than you. My father lost one and the overlap between the two companies was very very small.

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They're pretty much standard these days and I have never seen anyone prosecuted for remaining in the industry after quitting.

I think your assessment of the reason behind it is fairly accurate. In small locales I have seen it when there isn't even a possibility of going to the competition because they don't exist. Perhaps that's to prevent you developing a similar product yourself. Or it may just be a stock contract they got somewhere and modified to be company specific.

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