I have signed the contract but have not reported for work or signed any other documents required for employment. I now have a better offer from another company in a related field. Can I be held to the original contract even if I have not begun to actually work for them.
Employment / Labor Attorney
This is a tricky question and I generally advise people to consult a labor and employment attorney whenever they are dealing with potential non-compete / non-solicitation issues. I will break down my answer into a few different parts to make the explanations easier.
With respect to the non-compete agreement, most employers generally get non-competes from their employees in exchange for continued employment. In this instance, it sounds as if you were never employed. Accordingly, you could argue that you never received anything in exchange for signing the non-compete. The employer will have to establish that it gave some consideration (something, even something very small) to you for the agreement. Otherwise, it will be unenforceable. An employment attorney will be able to help you determine whether adequate consideration has been exchanged.
The analysis for the non-solicitation agreement is similar. It must be supported by consideration but consideration may exist if you had access to information that would not have been available to you but for your the "time" you "spent" with the employer. This type of agreement is designed to prevent you from soliciting employees and customers. If that information (who those people are) prior to going through the initial steps of taking the job, you will likely be alright. Again, this is an issue that is best reviewed by an attorney.
The confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements are slightly more tricky. While consideration is necessary to enforce each of the agreements, you may have received the necessary consideration if, at any time, you were privy to confidential or proprietary information. The agreements would generally prohibit you from disclosing this confidential and private information even if you were never actually worked for the company.
I hope that information helps and gets you started in the right direction. I suggest searching out a labor and employment attorney here on Avvo and finding someone who will give you a brief (hopefully free) initial consultation. Best of luck!
My thoughts and comments are for general information only. The do not constitute legal advice and they should not relied upon as such. My thoughts and comments do not form an attorney-client relationship--I am not your attorney. Please seek the advice of a licensed attorney before taking any acts based upon my thoughts and comments or the comments of others.
5 lawyers agree
Do you mean that you had no written employment agreement? Usually employers that bother to put the non-compete in writing also have a written employment agreement, which you could be in breach of by not reporting for work.
The language of the document you did sign may state or imply that you had to have actually have worked for the company, and you'd certainly be able to argue that you were not exposed to anything you could disclose or any personnel or clients you could solicit if you had never worked for them, but you need to see your own local employment lawyer so they can review the exact language of what you've signed and discuss the facts with you.
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I am not licensed in your state. In your position I would have a local employment lawyer write a letter saying that you will not work at the first company and are rescinding your prior agreements due to your decision not to work there.
The above is general legal and business analysis. It is not "legal advise" but analysis, and different lawyers may analyse this matter differently, especially if there are additional facts not reflected in the question. I am not your attorney until retained by a written retainer agreement signed by both of us. I am only licensed in California. See also avvo.com terms and conditions item 9, incorporated as if it was reprinted here.
Contracts / Agreements Lawyer
I agree with the first answer. I'm sure the agreement you signed also said something about you getting paid $x/year... To the extent you could ask the original company for money, they would be able to enforce the non-compete/non-solicitation against you.