Legal Question in Business Law in California

Can employer leave a business to begin their own career if they did not sign a non compete

Asked on 4/16/13, 1:29 pm

3 Answers from Attorneys

Jim Betinol Withrow and Betinol Law

An employee (assuming the word employer on your question was a typo) that is not subject to a non-compete agreement can seek out our opportunities that compete with his previous position. However, although there might not be an action for breach of contract from a non-compete, the manner in which an employee does this could potentially still open an employee to possible lawsuit (e.g., use of intellectual property and other proprietary information of previous employer).

Feel free to contact me or an attorney in your area to discuss your situation in further detail.

Kind regards,


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Answered on 4/16/13, 1:39 pm

Bryan Whipple Bryan R. R. Whipple, Attorney at Law

I likewise assume you meant "employee" rather than "employer."

California has a strong policy favoring employee mobility. Look up, for example, Business and Professions Code section 16600.

Not only can employees who didn't sign non-compete agreements leave for other jobs, so can employees who DID sign non-compete agreements. The law doesn't consider going to work for a competitor to be a right that an employee can surrender, any more that you can send yourself to jail.

However, California does strictly forbid a job-hopping former employee from taking and using "trade secrets" of the former employer. This means, on your last day of work, you can't snitch the boss's Rolodex. And other stuff like that. You can leave Jones Roofing and start My Roofing Company the next day, but you can't go out and call on Jones's clients or potential clients whose roofs you inspected for Jones last week. The potential clients' need for a new roof is a Jones trade secret. But you can certainly go call on homeowners where Jones hadn't been.

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Answered on 4/16/13, 1:55 pm
Keith E. Cooper Keith E. Cooper, Esq.

California has a public policy against restricting a person's pursuit of their profession, and non-compete agreements are unenforcable as a matter of law. You are certainly free to leave any employer and work for a competitor or start your own competing business. What you can't do, however, is steal your employer's client list or proprietary business methods. Those are considered trade secrets that are protected intellectual property. Competition is okay; theft of intellectual property (or office supplies, for that matter) is not.

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Answered on 4/16/13, 7:15 pm

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