Adam J. Conti, an employment lawyer who owns his own firm in Atlanta, offers five tips for those trying to stay within the law's tricky borders:
1. Make sure your employment contract or noncompete agreement is legal. If the restrictions are too broad, or if there isn't a specific time frame (usually no longer than two years) or a specified region (for example, within your state) mentioned for noncompetition after you leave the job, it's highly possible the contract that supposedly binds you isn't legally enforceable.
2. Throw the good ones back . . . for now. Stealing your company's clients will very likely bounce you into court, but if you stay true to the noncompete agreement's time frame, you can start dialing for dollars once the contract runs out without fear of getting sued.
3. Put time on your side. If you plan to start a business that competes directly with the day job you just left, remember: The more time you let elapse between your departure and your start-up, the less risk you run of landing in front of a judge.
4. Keep intellectual property in mind. If you've developed an idea that's within the scope of your job duties and responsibilities, chances are your employer can lay claim to it. But if you can prove the idea was developed outside of the company and wasn't something your employer wanted you to do, then that claim ticket is yours.
5. Don't worry about getting fired. It's never a good idea to bait your boss into downsizing you, but if you do get fired, the law will look more favorably on you than on the company that tossed you out and then tried to prevent you from earning a living in your field, whether you signed a noncompete agreement or not.