The Jimmy John's franchise is under investigation after several employees accused the company of imposing non-competition contracts. These contracts prohibit employees from working at any neighboring restaurants within three miles of a Jimmy John's for two years after their termination, whether voluntary or involuntary.
House members Rep. Joseph Crowley and Rep. Linda Sánchez spearheaded the investigation by writing to the Labor Department and the Federal Trade Commission just a few weeks ago. Both agree that non-compete clauses "run counter to the American ideal of open competition," and stifle a worker's ability to find better paying jobs.
Non-compete clauses are typically reserved for business executives in order to safeguard trade secrets or any other information deemed confidential. As to why a sandwich restaurant chain would require its employees to sign such a ridiculous agreement surpasses my understanding. I mean, they make the sandwiches right in front of you for goodness sake.
Although every state handles this particular issue differently, the consensus has been that a contract must meet a certain threshold of reasonableness in order for it to be upheld in a court of law. Unless my #9 Italian Night Club knows something I don't — there is no plausible way for this to be enforced.
In addition to requiring non-compete clauses to be reasonable in scope, contract law demands for them to be supported by consideration at the time they are signed. Jimmy John's hiring process, however, seems to overlook this precondition.
To be entirely fair, yes, the potential hire is free to walk away from the position at any point. But finding a job can be extremely difficult and some people will ultimately end up taking the job, whether they agree or disagree with certain policies. Placing such an oppressive burden on employees who are probably already doing the most to merely subsist is unethical, and should be found unconstitutional.
The contract also includes a section that demands the employee to reimburse Jimmy John's for any costs and attorney's fees incurred as a result of enforcing the agreement against the employee. Not only are they implementing potentially illegal practices, but they also expect a minimum wage worker to cover the litigation costs.
Whoever drafted and approved of this agreement must have known that such a demand from employees would have no legal standing. This then raises the question of integrity and whether or not this is simply used as an intimidation tactic. Unfortunately, it seems as though those at the bottom of the food chain are perpetually working in a system designed for them to fail.