Can an employer threaten me with legal action if I choose to go with a competitor?

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Can an employer threaten me with legal action if I choose to go with a competitor?

I was recently approached by a company that offered me much more income and research resources; they even offered to pay my resignation notice so that I can leave the current company ASAP. My current employer threatened me with legal action if I choose to go with a competitor. I’m sure I never signed anything related to such a clause. Is such a thing, on the employer’s behalf, possible?

Asked on July 12, 2011 under Employment Labor Law, Maryland

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

Usually, the only ground that an employer would have for proceeding against an employee who is hired by a competitor would be if there was a non-competition agreement of some sort signed by that employee. Other than that, generally speaking, an employee is free to leave work whenever (s)he wants and to work for whomever (s)he pleases.

There might be grounds for some action by the current employer IF they believe--and believe they can establish or prove--that you got the job by misappropriating and providing to the new employer confidential or proprietary business information of some sort, such as customer lists, intellectual property, business strategy, business process, etc. The misappropriation--especially if there is a non-disclosure or confidentiality or non-solicitation agreement--would be the basis for legal action.


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