Would non-compete still apply in such a case, if the employee quits before working in the new role?
That would depend on whether the non-compete was a condition imposed solely upon your taking the new position or whether the provision was broader in scope to encompass any position within the company. You should consult an attorney specialized in contract or employment law. Best of luck.
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I'm not entirely clear on the facts and your question based on what you wrote here. Regardless of whether the employer terminates the employee or if the employee quits, the covenant not to compete may still apply. However, because each of these contracts / covenants / clauses are different you should try to meet with an employment attorney to discuss the situation. Some of these agreements are overly broad anyways, so sitting down with an attorney to discuss your situation is probably in your best interest.
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Employment / Labor Attorney
What you ask is probably addressing what's called the "consideration" part of the non-compete. These tend to be widely variable and as such there is no general answer which will be helpful. You should bring the non-compete to an attorney for review.
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It is my position that there is no contract. The only exception may be a disclosure of confidential information during the interview process. One would have to review the agreement, however.
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One would need to review the contract to be sure, but it sounds to me as though employment would be a condition precedent to the non-compete taking effect, and if the employee never starts working in the new position then the contract is of no force and effect. This of course is based on the information which you've provided and one would have to review the contract and ascertain all pertinent facts in order to provide you with a proper legal opinion.
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Employment / Labor Attorney
Courts in Massachusetts scrutinize non-competes pretty closely - particularly when the employer has not, through training or on the job experience, imparted a unique and valuable skill to the employee. I would have to know more about the specifics, but the employer would have a heavy burden here.