More workers start looking to change jobs early on in the New Year than at any other time – but they risk falling foul of their contracts. That is the alert from a Midlands employment law specialist Lisa Kemp who says employees may be completely unaware of restrictive covenants they accepted when they took on their current jobs or upon promotion.
Typical restrictions include being banned from joining a rival, not poaching other members of staff or ‘soliciting business and custom’ – such as trying to take clients or customers to another organisation – for a set period of time after resigning.
Those covenants can lead to a former employer taking legal action, such as seeking an injunction or even damages, making an employee’s next step a perilous one.
Ms Kemp, an assistant solicitor at law firm mfg Solicitors, said: “Employers never want to see the staff they have trained go off and use their experience and inside knowledge to feather someone else’s nest.
“That’s why restrictive covenants are fairly common in today’s business world, but they are meant to allow employers and employees to part company on a level playing field. Many of these restraints can be unenforceable as anything that restricts someone’s freedom to work for others or carry out a trade is basically void.
“But if there is a legitimate business interest to protect, and an employer can show the restriction is reasonably necessary, they can get an injunction or even seek damages. That’s what many employees don’t realise.
“The months of January and February always see a spike in the number of people looking for a new job because they tend not to want the upheaval in the run up to Christmas and the New Year brings with it the desire for a new start.
“But the very first thing anyone seeking a change in their career should do is read the contract they may have eagerly signed some years before and check where they stand. And if there are restrictive covenants, they need to seek legal advice so they can weigh up the risks a job move would bring.”
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