For the members of my generation, tweeting about a new job has become a knee-jerk reaction. Social media is a self-centered arena, and what makes a person swell with pride more than getting hired at Ideal Company X? I only have to scroll halfway down my Facebook news feed before I come across a random job-related update from someone who's clearly in the honeymoon stage, gushing about why she loves her job and even naming her new employer outright.
But you might want to look before you tweet. Employers are becoming increasingly sensitive to the movements of their former employees online, especially when those employees have signed non-compete or non-solicitation agreements. Apparently that innocent (albeit slightly indulgent) “OMG, I love my new job” post can actually be perceived as a covert way to recruit former coworkers -- and in some cases is legally actionable. For instance, if your social network largely consists of former coworkers, and you announce your new job, and one of your connections is suddenly hired at your new company, well … those are dots that employers are trying to connect. And when an employer sues, they sometimes seek damages for lost sales (if clients jumped ship, too) or hiring costs associated with replacement.
While private calls/messages/emails intending to lure a former co-worker to your workplace has always violated non-solicitation contracts, some employers see tweets as cryptic workarounds -- and have even eyed certain friend requests or title changes as suspicious activity. Because it's harder to prove the intent behind this kind of "evidence," some employers are re-writing contracts to require a minimum amount of time before a worker can hire a colleague. That way, it doesn't matter where the new recruit caught wind of an opening. That line of defense is moot.
In 2010, a lawsuit that was eventually settled outside of court brought the issue into the spotlight. In this Minnesota case, a former TEKSystems employee signed an agreement saying she would not "approach, contact, solicity, or induce" any current employee to work for a competitor. When she started communicating with her former colleagues on LinkedIn, TEKSystems stepped in with a lawsuit.
Since there are few cases that act as precedents, the legal line is constantly being erased and re-drawn. Still, lots of people are at risk. It used to be that non-competes were unique to certain segments of the workforce – mostly sales and executive positions. However, that legal landscape is changing, too. According to Market Watch, the fields of medicine, technology, and general service are increasingly requiring these types of contracts as conditions of employment.
In some states, legislators are breaking trail to protect employees. New Jerseyans who qualify for unemployment benefits, for instance, are no longer bound to the document, and Illinoisans can work for up to two years at the same company before a non-compete is introduced.
Both parties need protections. Non-competes provide protection for the employer, and limitations on those rules (such as those above) afford protections for the employee. So, where's the balance?