BY: WILLIAM PARKER
This week’s Reader asks: I’ve worked for the same small software company for 10 years and unfortunately my relationship with my boss has gotten worse over time. A friend of mine told me that his employer is hiring and that he could get me a job with them doing the same work. I really want to take this job but I’ve heard that if I work for a competitor I could be sued. Is this true?
An employee who leaves to work for a company’s competitor may be sued if their employer believes they’ve broken the written or unwritten terms of their employment contract. It is true that an employee’s obligations to their employer last beyond the last day of work, but that does not necessarily mean that you’ll get sued.
The ongoing written obligations of employees often relate to non-competition or non-solicitation clauses in contracts. These are essentially sections of the contract that are designed protect employers from having their departing employees take their customers or compete against them. Although many contracts include these types of clauses Ontario Courts won’t always enforce them if they are too strict.
An employee’s unwritten obligations are often more important than the written ones. At a minimum these unwritten rules require that a departing employee must return all property to their employer and keep anything that can’t be returned confidential. For a software company this means that beyond returning a company laptop you must ensure you don’t disclose trade secrets or customer lists to your new employer.
Returning all of your employer’s property and respecting their confidentiality is most important. If you’re worried about what’s written in your contract, a lawyer should be able to review your contract and provide you with advice at a reasonable cost.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This publication is the 26th installment of our firm’s Legal Matters series, which answers a reader’s question every week. If you have a general legal question that you would like to have addressed please send it via email to email@example.com.