Woman shaking hands with bosses after signing employee agreements.

Employee Agreements: What Exactly Am I Agreeing To?

Most of us are in the habit of barely looking at many of the documents we sign during everyday tasks — such as applying for credit cards, opening accounts in department stores, or signing forms in doctors’ offices. Most often, we sign the document without reading the fine print. However, if you are asked to sign an employee agreement, it should always be reviewed in detail by a capable employment law attorney.

Types of Employee Agreements

You may be asked to sign a variety of employee agreements from the beginning of your new employment through the end of your employment, which may include the following:

  • Employment agreement at the time of hire
  • Contractual agreement (for employees who will be working under contract)
  • Employment review agreement after each annual review
  • Non-disclosure agreement
  • Non-compete agreement*
  • Non-solicitation agreement
  • Confidentiality agreement
  • Severance agreement or Release

*Effective January 1, 2020, non-compete agreements with employees making less than $100,000 per year are prohibited.

The employment agreement or contract, depending on whether you will be working under contract or not, will define the precise terms of your responsibilities, wages, vacation and sick time, and under what conditions you may be fired. In Washington State, unless you work under a contract stating otherwise, you can be fired “at will,” for any reason or no reason at all, unless the reason is discriminatory.

In a similar fashion, signing your employment review testifies to the fact that you accept the evaluation of your performance as accurate; agreements regarding your departure from the company may state that you agree to a certain amount of severance pay, or restrict you from sharing information with your next employer. If you make more than $100,000 per year (a greater amount applies to independent contractors) a non-compete agreement may prevent you from working for a direct local competitor, or from opening a competing business nearby. And, if you are asked to sign a severance agreement, you are likely being asked to release and give up many legal rights and claims.

Clearly, it is crucial that you receive the guidance of an experienced employment law attorney before signing agreements that may have a direct impact on you now or in the future.

Ignorance of the Words Is No Excuse

If you don’t have your employment agreements reviewed by a knowledgeable employment law attorney before you sign them, you are at risk.  Your employer knows that a new hire is eager to start a new job and may unwittingly agree to unfair terms or things that could impact a career many years after employment terminates. Your most valuable asset when your employment ends may be your years of accumulated knowledge and experience and you may sign away your ability to use such information at another job. Worse yet, if you bring clients with you or establish new clients, you will not want to be barred from serving those clients at another company if you decide to leave. Having an attorney who is familiar with such agreements, may save you from signing away your career.  

Consult a Professional Before You Sign Employee Agreements

Don’t make the mistake of signing employment documents without consulting an attorney. Contact a lawyer who has earned a reputation among clients and colleagues for protecting employees’ rights and make sure that yours are protected too.