Q: I worked as a medical biller for six years. Without warning, I was let go and told my accounts would be taken over by a team leader. When I started the job, I signed an agreement stating that I would not go to work for any of the company’s clients. The agreement never was updated or renewed in any way. One of the clients who really liked my performance called me and offered me a job when he heard I had been let go. Could my former company go after me if I were to accept the job?
A: You likely signed a general noncompete agreement in the beginning of your employment with the billing company. The purpose of this type of agreement is to keep employees from meeting company clients, leaving their jobs, opening their own billing agencies, and then soliciting and stealing the accounts from the company that developed the clients. Such agreements offer companies reasonable protection.
A noncompete agreement cannot be used to deny a person the ability to make a living. Since you spent six years perfecting your skills in client contact and medical billing and you did not quit your job for the purpose of opening your own company to steal any of the clients, you need to be allowed to accept a job in your field.
During tight economic times, finding employment outside your skill set is not likely. Limiting your ability to take a job with a company that values you would not be a wise move on your former company’s part, even if the company found a lawyer to pursue you in the matter. It’s never easy to judge whether a former company will behave ethically and morally, regardless of its legal rights to behave vindictively, but the facts are thus: You lost your job because of your company’s economic hardship and downsizing; you’re entitled to the opportunity to get another job as soon as you can; and realistically, you have a
far better chance of getting a job doing what you know how to do. Accept the job offer. Let’s hope your former company will be decent about it when the news of your finding other employment travels to those with whom you’ve worked.