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Teenager, intern, personal trainer forced to sign pacts
Saturday, June 07, 2014

By:

Chris Cassidy

Teenage camp counselors, personal trainers, salon assistants and even interns are being forced to sign controversial noncompete agreements typically reserved for high-tech executives in a sign the practice of blocking employees from jumping to a competitor may be going too far, critics say.

“People perceive this as a problem with high-wage earners, but these are being used across the economy,” said state Rep. Lori Ehrlich (D-Marblehead). “A constituent reached out to me because he was stuck in a two-year noncompete with a lawn pesticide company. He was the guy out there spraying lawns. They enforced it on him.”

Wellesley father Cimarron Buser told a State House panel last week that his teenage daughter signed a noncompete to become a summer camp counselor at LINX Camps, barring her from joining a competitor — or even baby-sitting for a family met through LINX — for one year.

Buser told the Herald the camp his daughter wants to work for this year won’t hire her because it doesn’t want to assume liability.

“The reality of it is that it’s enforceable, and they can do it,” said Buser. “That’s the point where you go, ‘Wow, this is kind of crazy.’”

LINX President Joe Kahn said the company uses noncompetes because they train employees using their unique methods and have seen families hire their children’s counselors mid-summer as babysitters.

“Much like a tech company would be protective of their technology and proprietary information, we’re protective of our customer information,” said Kahn.

Matt Marx of MIT told the Herald he has come across startling uses of noncompetes in his research, including:

• A private aviator was sued and his fiancee fired after he quit to work for a competitor;

• A personal trainer at a gym left to start his own company before his employer tried to enforce the noncompete — but the gym lost the document; and

• A student told Marx the high-tech firm where he’d be interning for three months requested he sign a one-year noncompete.

“This has been going on for quite some time, and people are just becoming aware that these contracts are being used in all kinds of industries,” said Marx.

At a State House hearing, a Worcester hair salon assistant, who signed a noncompete, was fired, found work at another salon and was then slapped by her old employer with a cease-and-desist letter and a demand for $25,000 in damages.

Chris Geehern of Associated Industries of Massachusetts said examples like those cloud the true problem facing high-tech companies.

“It’s a distraction, period,” said Geehern. “The real issue is how do you preserve genuine intellectual property.”

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