What can I do about a “handcuff clause” in my employment contract?

I’m a software architect working as an hourly employee of a contracting agency. I have a 6 month contract to work for the agency’s client. My contract with the agency includes a handcuff clause that says I will not work for the client for a period of 6 months after termination of working for the agency. The client is very pleased with my work and is very interested in continuing to work with me. Unfortunately, the client is unwilling to work with the agency in the future due to unethical interactions by the agency. The work is being done in California. The contract says that it will be interpreted according to Texas law.Given that the client won’t work with the agency, with cause, can I safely ignore the clause and work for the client?

Asked on July 25, 2015 under Employment Labor Law, California


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 5 years ago | Contributor

No, it may not be safe to ignore the clause: it would be one thing if the agency "fired" the client so to speak--chose to not have them as a client. In that case, you could ignore the clause, because a client that the *employer* will not work with/for is not a client. But if the client is the one that refuses to work with the agency, the agency may still consider them a client, on the not-unreasonable belief that the client may come back to them if their need for services or their appreciation of the quality of work outweighs their ethical concerns. For purposes of this clause, the client is therefore most likely still a client; not all all clients work with agencies constantly, but, for a variety for reasons, take a hiatus (of indefinite duration, in that you don't know when they'll go back to the agency until they go back) from using them; they are still clients.

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