If I did not sign a non-compete clause, can I work for a competitor the day after I quit?

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If I did not sign a non-compete clause, can I work for a competitor the day after I quit?

My company had employees sign a non-compete clause 3 years ago. I was on vacation at the time and never signed one (I didn’t even know the non-compete existed up until now). I am looking to leave to go work for a direct competitor. No where in our employee manual does it say I need to sign a non-compete. Is it OK for me to leave to work for the competitor. The non-compete everyone else signed was for 12 months. Also, I noticed that several others at the company have do not have non-competes.

Asked on March 21, 2012 under Employment Labor Law, Wisconsin

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

As a general matter, anyone is free to work for anyone--even direct competitors--at any time--even 5 minutes after packing up your desk. The only exception is if you signed a noncompetition agreement or clause; however, since those are contracts, you are only held to them if you in fact agreed to them--i.e. there is no basis for holding you to a noncompetition agreement which you never agreed to. From what you write, you should be able to do this.

Note that there are certain things you cannot do--such as use any proprietary information (for example, manufacturing processes; customers lists; knowledge of profit margins or strategy) which you acquired from the current employer for the benefit of a new employer. However, as long as you refrain from using confidential or proprietary information, it is difficult to see what basis your current employer could have for attempting to take action if you work for a competitor.


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