Ban Non-Competes in Massachusetts
I have never liked non-compete agreements. As an individual, I find them annoying. As an employer, they have caused me headaches. And politically, I think they impinge too much on individual rights. Furthermore, they are one of the ways in which Massachusetts is inferior to California for startups. That last one really bothers me.
The good news is at least one legislator is doing something about it. Will Brownsberger has announced that he will be sponsoring legislation to abolish non-compete agreements in Massachusetts. Xconomy reported about it in a story earlier this month, “Legislator Drafting Bill to Outlaw Non-Compete Agreements in Massachusetts“.
This is a simple legislative change which will cost the government little and have a big impact on Massachusetts competitiveness. However, I expect larger employers to resist any change in the law, so there may well be a fight. I want to encourage as much grassroots support of this as I can, so after the break you can find my email for inspiration and details on how to write your own representative.
Last night I wrote the following email to my congress critter, Sean Garballey. You are welcome to use it as a template for writing your own.
I am a resident of Arlington, living in your district, and I had the pleasure of voting for you in a primary and two elections thus far.
As you may be aware, Representative Will Brownsberger of Belmont has announced a plan to introduce legislation abolishing non-compete agreements in Massachusetts. You can read more about it at http://www.xconomy.com/boston/2008/12/16/legislator-drafting-bill-to-outlaw-non-compete-agreements-in-massachusetts/
As a Massachusetts native, university graduate, and entrepreneur, I strongly support legislation abolishing non-compete agreements in our state. I think that this is the single most concrete step the legislature can take to encourage small, innovative companies to be founded and continue to operate here in Massachusetts.
As the founder of StreamBase Systems of Lexington, non-competes have been a challenge for me. We are a technology startup, spun out of MIT, that makes software for real time data processing, such as stock market data or signals intelligence data. Our system is a major improvement on many existing tools. In recruiting engineers from larger companies, I have on multiple occasions run afoul of non-compete agreements. While the other companies are generally not competitors, non-competes are often broad enough to cover at least some of our business. In some cases, potential employees have declined to pursue discussions with me, fearing legal repercussions from their previous employer. In other cases, employees have requested that they not work with certain customers or on certain lines of business, in order to avoid the appearance of impropriety.
While these agreements are seldom enforced, their existence and the legal grey areas surrounding them are a drain on our economy. They hurt workers, who are not able to change jobs freely and make use of their skills in the best jobs possible. And they hurt companies, making it harder to recruit the best employees. Removing noncompetes will help everyone in Massachusetts benefit more from our skilled workforce.
I was pleased to receive his prompt reply:
Thank you for writing to me in regards to the bill that Rep. Brownsberger will be filing for this legislative session. I strongly support the initiative to abolish non-compete agreements in Massachusetts. I agree with your comments and I hope we can move this legislation forward during this session.
I also contacted the sponsor of the legislation, Will Brownsberger, and also received a reply, in only 20 minutes or so, after midnight. He is definitely on top of electronic communication with his constituents, including Google groups.
I’ve heard that Senator Patricia Jehlen is going to sponsor the bill in the senate. If you live in Medford or Somerville you may be in her district. Unfortunately my newly-elected state senator, Jim Marzilli, doesn’t seem to post his email address, so I’ll have to bug him other ways.
If you also support banning non-competes, I encourage you to write your representative and senator. You can likely find them at http://www.wheredoivotema.com/. And consider sharing your support with Rep. Brownsberger as well.