What to do if my current employer is threatening legal action because I’m leaving to go to a competitor and signed a confidentiality statement?

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What to do if my current employer is threatening legal action because I’m leaving to go to a competitor and signed a confidentiality statement?

I’m leaving to work for a competitor for better hours/pay/work environment. They’re saying that I signed a confidentiality statement (it is not a non-compete). Can they really do anything if I haven’t told any “secrets”? According to the notice, “Section F states that you agree that as an employee of the company to ‘assume an obligation to preserve and maintain the confidentiality of our proprietary business information…, even after you leave our employment.'”

Asked on April 25, 2012 under Employment Labor Law, South Carolina

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

A contract is enforceable only as per its actual terms--that is, your employer can only enforce the specific requirements of the confidentiality agreement against you, and cannot unilaterally impose new obligations, such as non-competition, on you which you never agreed to.

If the employer believes you have disclosed confidential information, they could sue you for monetary damages and/or for an order barring you from doing this--but all they can do is take action if they believe you have disclosed confidential information, and they would need to be able to prove that.

They cannot sue you simply for working for a competitor unless you had signed a non-competition agreement; working for a competitor does not violate a confidentiality agreement except to the extent you disclose confidential information. If they wanted you to not compete, they should have previously made you sign a non-competition agreement as a condition of employment.


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