Did Google–famed for its corporate mantra, “Don’t Be Evil”–handle its DoubleClick layoffs in a particularly shady way? According to at least one former employee, yes.
A DoubleClick employee among the 300 laid off earlier in April told the Silicon Valley gossip blog Valleywag that managers had asked employees to sign one-year noncompete agreements only a week before they were laid off. Most agreed to, thinking it would spare their jobs, only to be out of a job–and possibly, the ability to work in online ads at all–days later, the source said.
Needless to say, these unemployed former GoogleClickers are not pleased, but noncomplete clauses are finicky things, and, according to employment lawyers, from difficult to impossible to enforce.
“Usually, unless trade secrets or company goodwill are at risk, they’re not enforceable. Judges are very reluctant to enforce these against a low- to middle-level employee. Against bigwigs, it’s another story,” Dave Elchoness, an employment lawyer and human resources consultant who has advised on and litigated on these cases for years in Boulder, Colo., told eWEEK in November 2007.
In California, where Google is headquartered, noncompete contracts are essentially void. However, most DoubleClick employees were located in New York. Even so, eWEEK was told, they don’t need to be worried.
“What a noncompete can’t do is keep you out of your industry. It can keep you out of certain segments, technology, regions. It can keep you out of certain areas where you would potentially use confidential information. But it all comes back to, What is the employer’s protectable interest? And their protectable interest is never going to be, ‘Jim can’t be a software coder anymore,'” Elchoness said.