Q: I started my own business, how long do I legally have to wait to contact my clients from my previous employer?
Orlando, FL - I have NOT signed a non-compete/non-solicitation agreement with my employer that I have been employed by for the last 7 years. I put in my 2 weeks notice and they are now saying I MUST sign a non-compete before I can get my last paycheck (which I am not going to do). Legally, how long do I have to wait before I contact my previous clients? Can I let my accounts know I am starting my own business on my way out? What if I already have? I have great relationships with my clients and I am doing the same service that I was previously doing in the same area I was doing it. Are only new clients free game? For how long? Can my previous employer sue me?
A: First, under wage law (Federal wage law since I am in CA and you are in FL), the employer cannot withhold your check under the circumstances you describe. Consult a local wage/hour attorney about that and whether, as in CA, there is a penalty provision or a labor commissioner you can file with. Next, with respect to this competition, the issue, whether you have an express agreement or not, is whether you are engaging in an unfair business practice by stealing clients. If you are starting a new business, you should be seeking new clients through open, public means, such as internet postings for particular businesses. Create your paper (electronic record) trail, showing that you contacted a number of potential new clients through information you obtained on the web. Each state has its own laws regarding this situation so you are best advised to consult directly with a local attorney for an individualized opinion, after he reviews all the facts relating to your work situation. This may be a fee based consultation.
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A: 1. You have asked many very important issues that collectively would require much more time to answer than I or any other busy Florida business lawyer has to give you--for free.
2. Florida law is very complex on this important issue; and the federal labor laws implicated in this employment situation make matters even more complicated.
3. Having done this for many years my initial advice is to hire a very experienced business lawyer who also has a labor and employment law background.
4. Acting now is not too early--because now that the cat is out of the bag, everything you do has implications that you will have to live with in the future.
5. Get off the Internet and hire a lawyer.
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