The Right to Work vs. Non-compete


Labor unions can have both positive and negative effects on the workplace. Certain states recognize that not every employee wants to be a part of a union, and have enacted laws protecting an employee's right to choose. These states are known as "right-to-work" states. A right-to-work, however, does not have an effect on non-competition clauses, which are generally used to protect a business from losing employees to its competition.

Right-to-Work States

  • As of 2011, 22 states in the United States are "right-to-work" states. Many of these states are located in the southern and western areas of the country. Texas, Nevada, Florida, Georgia, Virginia and North Dakota are a few of the right-to-work states. In a right-to-work state, the relevant employment laws give employees the choice as to whether they want to join a union or pay union dues. In right-to-work states, employees cannot be denied employment because they do not want to join a union that has organized at that workplace. According to the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, employees in federal employment may not be forced to join a union but may need to pay union dues.

Non-Competition Agreements

  • A non-competition agreement --- which may be integrated into a contract through a non-competition clause --- is often used in employment situations where the competition is fierce. The agreement restricts an employee's ability to work in that geographic region and in that market for a certain number of years if the employee leaves the company. The purpose is to protect sensitive information, such as secret formulas or product designs, from the competition.

Enforcement of a Non-Compete Agreement

  • To be enforceable, the non-compete agreement must be reasonable in light of the circumstances. According to, the agreement must be limited in both scope and duration. The specifics depend on the employer, the market, the geographic location and other factors such as the amount of bargaining power the employee had when negotiating the contract. If the court finds the clause or agreement is reasonable, then it is enforceable.

Effect of Non-Compete Agreements in Right-to-Work States

  • Non-competition clauses are valid even in right-to-work states, provided nothing in the non-competition clause makes it a requirement for the employee to join a union or pay union dues. As described above, the right-to-work states protect employees from having to join a union or pay union dues. Generally, the law has no effect on competition or non-compete agreements. Employees in right-to-work states faced with a non-competition clause should speak to an employment attorney in their area for an analysis on how the law applies to their unique situation.


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