Cartoon by Hugh MacLeod
Amendment One asks, “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to make Georgia more economically competitive by authorizing legislation to uphold reasonable competitive agreements?”
Some scintillating phrases in there…”economically competitive” and “reasonable competitive agreements” being amongst my favorites.
Any reasonable person is certainly going to want their home state to be more economically competitive, right? And certainly anyone in their right mind would want to uphold “reasonable” competitive agreements, right??
Hold the phone.
Let’s explore what all this legalese really means to you, your career, and your future. Jay Bookman, ajc.com writes, “Let’s look at what the amendment would actually do. The state constitution currently bars contracts “defeating or lessening competition.” Amendment One effectively strikes that free-enterprise language regarding one important area of law.
According to supporters, the change is needed to make it easier to use noncompete employment contracts. Once signed, such contracts bar workers who leave a job from immediately taking a position with a competing firm or starting a competitor of their own. Those who leave anyway must wait until the contract expires, often two years or longer.
From a company’s point of view, such contracts have several advantages. The most legitimate is that noncompete clauses keep critical employees from taking inside information and immediately using it against their previous employer.
Other impacts are less benign. Such contracts discourage the rise of new competitors within an industry, and they limit worker freedom. Workers know that if they quit or get fired, they won’t be able to work in their field until the noncompete contract expires.
Until now, our state constitution has made such agreements hard to enforce.”
He goes on to say, “Current state law — rendered void by its constitutional problems — at least gave some protection to workers who were fired for no fault of their own. That made sense: Getting fired or laid off is bad enough; getting laid off and told that by law you can’t get a new job in your career field for two or three years is really rubbing it in.
The new law contains no such safeguard.
The previous law also limited the geographic area in which a noncompete clause could be enforced, requiring employers to describe the area in writing. The new law contains no such restriction, meaning a noncompete contract could conceivably be enforced nationally.”
As I was writing this post I saw the following tweet appear in my Twitter stream:
@egrasing: Ironic: if Amendment 1 passes, the only “jobs of tomorrow” you’ll be able to consider are going to be ones you don’t want.
My first thought?
“…and aren’t qualified for.”
If you have undergraduate and graduate degrees in accounting, have been working as an accountant for the last XX years, are laid off, and because of your non-compete agreement are forbidden from seeeking employment in the accounting arena for the next two or three years, just what exactly are you going to do to earn a living? Is it really realistic to think that you could find employment at the same professional and compensation levels?
The chances are slim. VERY SLIM.
Unless you have simultaneously been pursuing an alternate career or hobby that can compensate you in the same fashion and provide you with similar benefits and standard-of-living…chances are, you’re screwed. And most people I know certainly do not fall in to that category.
Bookman goes on to present another element of this argument. “For some, those changes might be worthwhile if they bring jobs to Georgia. But research suggests the opposite.
The classic case study compares Massachusetts, which allows strict noncompete contracts, and California, which bars them. At one point, the two states boasted comparable high-tech industries, but California’s Silicon Valley quickly outgrew Boston’s Route 128.
Why? Well, California allowed workers to form new, more nimble companies, creating competition, while Massachusetts protected existing firms at the expense of innovation.
A 2009 study by the Harvard School of Business focused on Michigan, which in 1985 passed a law much like that now on the Georgia ballot. By tracking patents, the study found that job mobility for inventors in Michigan fell significantly once the law changed.
“States that continue to allow widespread use of such agreements as a way to protect established firms may instead be inadvertently creating a ‘brain drain’ of the very workers needed to create and build successful new firms,” the Harvard study warns.”
Please. Vote NO on Amendment One in Georgia.