As a freelance writer, your income and livelihood depend on the work you produce for your clients. But what if one of your clients is trying to prohibit you from working for anyone else? Below is some valuable information for freelance writers when it comes to dealing with non-compete agreements.
What is a non-compete agreement?
A non-compete agreement is a legal contract between an employer and an employee that prevents the employee from working for one of the employer’s competitors. Non-compete agreements can be made with an employee or an independent contractor.
Non-compete agreements are used to protect companies from their employees obtaining skills and insights and transferring them to a competitor.
For example, if you work at Coca-Cola as an independent contractor designing advertisements, it would be in Coca-Cola’s best interests to require you to sign a non-compete agreement stating that you will not work for Pepsi — a direct competitor.
The Problem with Non-Competes for Freelancers
Non-compete agreements can impose wide-ranging limitations on your ability to work in your favorite industries and regions. For example, if you have spent the last ten years working in the car industry at Ford Motors, you would be the perfect candidate for a role at one of the other popular car manufacturers.
However, if Ford put a non-compete agreement in place, it would likely prohibit you from making that transition for a certain period of time. Such a limit on freelancers can significantly hinder when, where, and with whom they are allowed to do business.
Are non-compete agreements enforceable?
Generally speaking, the more restrictive the agreement, the less likely it will be enforceable. The two factors that courts generally turn to when interpreting non-compete agreements are geographical restrictions and the length of time that the agreement applies.
Keep in mind that each state enforces non-compete agreements differently. Some states, most notably California, have banned non-compete agreements entirely.
Illinois courts grappled with whether non-competes should be enforced for decades. Fortunately, as of January 1, 2022, the Illinois legislature has codified what types of non-compete agreements go too far.
First, the law prohibits employers from entering into non-compete agreements with employees who earn $75,000 or less per year.
Second, a non-compete agreement is unenforceable unless the employer advises the employee to consult with an attorney before signing the agreement.
Third, employers can only enforce non-compete agreements on employees who have worked for them for at least two years.
Finally, the Illinois legislature included specific rules regarding COVID policies, attorney fees, and non-competes in the construction field.
Alternatives to Non-Compete Agreements
Rather than signing a non-compete agreement, you could suggest several other, less restrictive options to your employer.
Instead of prohibiting you from working with other clients, a non-solicitation agreement prevents you from soliciting your employer’s customers. For example, if an agency hires you to design logos for that company’s clients, a non-solicitation agreement would prevent you from approaching those clients after you leave your company.
A non-disclosure agreement prevents employees from disclosing confidential information to other clients. A benefit to non-disclosure agreements is that they protect the employer without causing any harm to you as a freelancer. You can still work with whomever you want, but you are limited as to the information you can provide them.
Need a non-compete agreement reviewed?
If you’ve been offered a non-compete agreement, contact the attorneys at Foote, Mielke, Chavez & O’Neil in Geneva, Illinois, and we will review it with your best interests in mind. Our attorneys will guide you through all of your employment law questions.