Employee contracts come in all forms and degrees of restriction. However, the contract drawn up by Robert Half International, the recruiting and placement firm which figures in the distinguished S&P 500 index, is on its way to becoming legend.
The contract specifies that, apart from job resumes and application forms, Robert Half’s ex-employees are not allowed to mention that they worked for it in any form or medium. This includes “business cards, stationery and advertising” . Clearly, the recruiter believes in dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s.
Employee contracts have evolved to reflect changing workplace scenarios, increased mobility and competitive sectors. Poaching has become a fine art form, even a science, and anti-poaching contracts are inventive and restrictive. The common method is to restrict employees at one major in a sector from directly joining a competitor, in which case the employees join a third, relatively minor, player for an interim period. Google, Apple, Adobe, Intel, Lucasfilm and Pixar figure in reports of complex, sometimes off-the-record, anti-poaching agreements between corporate giants which are even alleged to be illegal and sometimes investigated by the government.
However, Robert Half’s contract stands apart, because it is effectively barring its employees from using their work experience with it to advance their career afterwards. This goes beyond protecting the interests of the organization and infringes on the employees’ basic rights. It is also, as Robert Half has discovered, illegal in several states in the US.
Robert Half will have to redraw its contract template. However, it is likely that this is not the end of the story. Organizations will keep finding ways to advance their interests even through clauses that might be unnecessarily restrictive and borderline illegal. This will have the domino effect of keeping employees tense about the legalities of their work. This is hardly the way to increase employee commitment and loyalty to an organization, the best attribute a workplace can hope to have. The gap between perceived collective interest and individual rights will continue to exist until organizations understand the basis of their employer brand, and who are the legitimate stakeholders in this.