Can I be Fired for Refusing to Sign a Non-Compete: What Georgia Labor Laws Say

December 17, 2015

If your employer has asked you to sign a non-compete agreement, you may be wondering what your rights are and what it means for you. Georgia labor laws were recently updated. The rules around non-compete agreements were changed, so it’s smart to find out the new rules and make sure your employer is in compliance.

What is a Non-Compete Agreement?

Non-Compete agreements (called “restrictive covenants” in Georgia labor laws) let employers lay down restrictions over what kind of work an employee can do after leaving the company. A non-compete is a form of contract, or a clause within a contract, that can restrict a few different kinds of future employment—including who the employee works for, what field they work in, and where they work.

Before you decide to sign a non-compete agreement, it’s important to understand the three kinds of restrictions it can enforce: location, time, and scope of activities. A typical non-compete agreement will be for two years or less, in the area where the employer does business, and may include a list of specific competitors.

Non-compete agreements are most prevalent for certain types of employees, including 1) employees who regularly solicit customers or prospective customers, 2) sales employees, 3) managers, and 4) “key employees or professionals.” However, employers may attempt to restrict the work of any employee after leave the company. Georgia law requires that the restrictions imposed must be reasonable as to the scope of the restriction, the length of the restriction and the geographic location of the restriction. Courts have the authority to strike down or rewrite provisions that are unreasonable.

Refusing to Sign a Non-Compete Agreement

If you’re already an employee, a non-compete agreement needs to be a functioning contract. A contract requires something given on both sides, so if the employee is going to agree to give up job opportunities, the employer has to provide something in return. If the non-compete is tied to a promotion, a raise, or a new job, or even continued employment, this is enough to count as something of value. Because the statutes on this kind of contract were updated in 2011, your employer may ask you to sign a new one to update the old one, which may not require them to give you anything at all.

Under Georgia labor laws, employment is provided “at will,” meaning your employer can fire you any time for any reason unless you have an employment contract stating otherwise. If you are concerned about signing a non-compete agreement, you may want to consult a lawyer. Non-compete agreements need to be narrowly tailored to meet the new law’s requirements and an attorney can tell you if the agreement is enforceable and what your options are. You may negotiate the non-compete just like you’d negotiate any terms of employment, but be aware that refusing to sign may put your job at risk. Because employment is deemed to be “at will” in Georgia, an employer may legally fire you for refusing to sign a non-compete agreement.

If you have any additional questions about employment law, feel free to learn more about employment law via PCW Law Firm.

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