Non-Compete Agreements: Disagreeable

I hear from massage therapists many times that they have been asked to sign a non-compete agreement when accepting employment. Here’s my take on that: There are enough aching bodies and stressed-out people to go around.

I have a decent-sized staff of 14, and I have never asked a single soul to sign a non-compete. Most of my staff members have been with me for years, and I am certain if one of them left, a certain amount of people would follow them out the door. It has been a very rare occurrence for me to lose a staff member, and when I have, and someone calls for them, I say “Lisa has opened her own business located at so-and-so.”  To do otherwise isn’t going to endear me to any clients. They’d eventually find her anyway, and their opinion of me would go down if I bad-mouthed her for leaving or said anything negative about her departure.

Fortunately, my business is not built on one person’s ability, other than my own ability to hold it all together. I would no more try to prevent someone from striking out on their own, or trying to better their circumstances in any way, any more than I would cut off my nose to spite my face.

I pride myself in being a good person to work for. My staff members are paid above the average. They are all independent contractors…they come and go as they please. I don’t expect anyone to sit around, unpaid, while they wait for clients who may or may not materialize. I don’t expect them to scrub the toilet. My expectations of my staff members are that they act ethically and professionally and that they put the client first, give great service, and act like team players. It’s very rare that I’ve been disappointed. I have people standing in line that would like to work in my clinic. No one has ever left me without working a notice.

When it comes to non-compete agreements, Dale Atkinson, internationally-known attorney who represents the FSMTB, put it this way at last year’s Federation meeting: if an employer asks you to sign a non-compete agreement, go ahead. It won’t stand up in court unless you happen to be the VP of Massage Envy who is privy to company secrets. When it comes to the average massage therapist, it’s just a blatant attempt to restrict free enterprise, and it won’t hold up.

I believe people have the right to work where they choose. And yes, I have spent money to advertise my staff members and done marketing for them…but in spite of that, I can’t visualize myself possessing the type of professional jealousy that would make me ask a therapist to sign a paper that virtually says they can’t practice unless it’s in my place of business or far enough away that it is no longer competition. What’s the matter with people? Competition is a healthy thing. Trying to tell someone that they can’t work unless they work for you is contrary to the principles of entrepreneurship. To me, the message is “I’m so insecure in my own ability to maintain a decent business that I wouldn’t want you to compete against me.”

I suggest that instead of having non-compete agreements that aren’t going to fly anyway, employers should provide a work environment that attracts quality people. When a spa or clinic has a revolving door of people coming in and out, the problem is usually the management, not the staff, and most of the time the owner is in denial. Treat people well and you won’t need a non-compete agreement. If someone leaves and opens their own business, take the high road and wish them well. It will serve you better in the long run than filing a lawsuit and acting like the clients they might have had are your property. People have the right to do business with whomever they choose. Trying to prevent that is like herding cats, and it will not cultivate loyalty from either employees or clients.