Business noncompete debate spills into Wellesley

The Boston Herald points out in an article today that testimony from a Wellesley man at last month’s State House hearing about the hotly debated subject of business noncompete clauses wasn’t quite like the rest. Whereas the issue of noncompetes has largely been associated with big technology companies such as EMC that use legalese to try to keep employees from walking off with intellectual property or to prevent rivals from poaching their workers locally, Wellesley’s Cimarron Buser was discussing a noncompete agreement signed by his teenager while working part-time at the LINX summer day camp. His hope was that the combination of business and personal stories by the anti-noncompete crowd would help to sway legislators to change the current employment rules in Massachusetts.

As a recent Globe report on the broader noncompete issue explains, the general breakdown is that big companies love noncompetes and that startups/venture capitalists hate them (though some of those same big companies are enthusiastic employee poachers in states that allow it, of course). Cimarron works for Apperian, a growing private company in the mobile apps field, but not quite a tech giant yet.

Wellesley’s LINX isn’t a big company along the lines of EMC either, but it too is growing (Disclaimer: LINX has advertised with us and we’ve sent a kid to camp there). LINX President Joe Kahn, who is not unfamiliar with the noncompete debate taking place in Massachusetts, told the Herald that his company uses noncompetes to protect the unique methods it teaches employees, who might go off and bring those learnings to nearby camps or for babysitting gigs involving kids/parents they meet through LINX.  “Much like a tech company would be protective of their technology and proprietary information, we’re protective of our customer information,” he told the Herald.

Wellesley is bustling with camps, including some that literally share the same driveway. Echoing terminology familiar from tech icons like Apple’s Steve Jobs, Kahn in speaking to me refers to techniques taught to employees as “magic” and “mission critical.” Those regimented techniques help differentiate his business, he says.

But Buser argues that including a noncompete clause “is over-reaching for part time, minimum wage workers and has no legitimate business purpose.” Further, he frowns on minors signing such agreements, though acknowledges his child was 18 when she signed the most recent contract last year, so must take responsibility. (The noncompete clause in the LINX contract is pretty far down, though the document is only 2 pages. And the wording is straightforward: No working for any LINX competitor within 10 miles of a LINX location while at LINX or within a year of leaving.)

Still, it’s fair say that the existence of such a clause for such a summer job would surprise many. We did check with one other local camp, which does not use noncompetes and was surprised that another would. Kahn says that the noncompete clause has not really come up aside from in the 2 cases cited in Buser’s testimony and emphasized that his company’s employees/ex-employees are welcome to pursue other jobs, such as scooping ice cream, even within LINX territory. They could probably even get away with sprinkling on a little “magic.”