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竞业限制协议正在扼杀创新

Ellen Rubin 2019年07月01日

到处可见的竞业限制协议形成了避险文化,这给创新带来了困难。

图片来源:Hailshadow via Getty Images

反对竞业限制协议的全国性运动正在不断壮大。华盛顿州州长、2020年大选候选人杰伊·英斯利在今年5月签署法令,禁止对年收入低于10万美元的人使用竞业限制协议。6月,马里兰州也就针对低薪工作者的竞业限制下了禁令。新罕布什尔和佛蒙特等州也在考虑大幅削弱此类协议的约束力。这股潮流甚至影响到了美国国会——三名参议员最近提出了在全国范围内禁止竞业限制的议案。

可惜,竞业限制协议仍然随处可见。美国财政部的数据显示,受此类协议约束的美国就业者约有3000万人,占全部劳动者的五分之一左右。工资越高,签署竞业限制协议的百分比就越大。美国经济创新研究所2019年的报告指出,在年收入低于4万美元的就业者中,竞业限制协议的覆盖面约为14%;在年收入超过15万美元的人中则接近一半。只有加利福尼亚、北达科他和俄克拉荷马州彻底禁止了这种协议。在近一半的州,被裁员工甚至会因为此类协议而在一年或更长时间里无法重操旧业。

我长期在马萨诸塞州的企业技术基础设施领域中从事创业活动。在这里,州长查理·巴克尔去年签署了削弱竞业限制协议的法令。但对其进行改革还不够,应该让这种协议彻底消失。它们有损就业,不利于使用此类协议的公司,而且扼杀了创新。

成就文化能够令创新蓬勃发展,在这样的文化里,人们毫无顾虑,创造力十足。另一方面,竞业限制形成的则是避险文化,身处其中的人或许会在恐惧驱使下做出职业抉择。举例来说,人们可能会因为担心要签竞业限制协议而不接受入职邀请,或者公司员工甚至可能不再求职,因为他们担心自己会被现在的用人单位起诉。

此外,受到此类协议限制的员工无法在离职后进入初创企业,或在自己的专业领域建立自己的公司。实际上,据经济创新研究所介绍,在强制使用竞业限制协议的州,初创公司都不那么成功,就业者的收入也低于未强制使用此类协议的州(比如加利福尼亚州)。

如今的上班族流动性很大。美国劳工统计局的数据显示,48岁以下的婴儿潮一代平均每人差不多干过12份工作。盖洛普则发现,五分之一以上的千禧一代去年刚刚跳过槽。竞业限制协议有可能把人锁在某一家公司,这会让真正的人才望而却步,公司也将更难招聘到所需人员。1985年密歇根州推翻了竞业限制禁令,而2014年的一项研究显示,随后密歇根的脑力劳动者就开始流向那些未强制实施竞业限制的州。

虽然用人单位采取竞业限制措施的原因多种多样,比如保护商业机密、维持客户关系以及留住骨干员工。但实际上,已经有专门的法律来保护知识产权和客户关系了。比如,用人单位可以让员工签署保密协议,以便保护知识产权和商业机密,禁止招徕协议则能够防止前员工把客户挖走。竞业限制真的没有必要,它无法提供更多的保障,而且只会削弱就业者在其专业领域保持竞争优势的能力。

对通过竞业限制来留住骨干员工的公司来说,这些协议妨碍了人员流动,体现的则是不愿意随时间而做出改变的心态。削弱人员流动性影响的不光是个人的工作前景,它还会压缩企业的潜在人才库。就算修改或削弱了竞业限制协议,继续使用此类协议也表明公司对自己在公平环境下留住或争夺人才的能力感到怀疑。在眼下竞争激烈的就业市场,这样的公司文化可不好发展。

从更基本的角度而言,竞业限制有损公平。员工有权去寻找让他们感到满足,而且最有可能让他们取得成就的工作。没有任何拿得出手的理由能够阻止人们通过专业技能和经验来养活自己。这在非科技行业中甚至更为明显——竞业限制会让人们在一年或者更长时间里处于失业状态,甚至是在其无故被解职的情况下。

终究有更好的方法来留住员工,比如让他们可以妥善平衡工作和生活的关系、给予强有力的指导、提供职业咨询以及让他们获得职业发展机会,而不是借助这些既打击员工积极性又限制企业创新能力的协议。(财富中文网)

艾伦·鲁宾是数据存储服务公司ClearSky Data的首席执行官及联合创始人。

译者:Charlie

审校:夏林

There’s a growing national movement against noncompete agreements. Jay Inslee, governor of Washington and 2020 presidential candidate, signed a law in May barring noncompetes for anyone who makes less than $100,000 annually, and in June, Maryland banned them for low-wage workers. Additional states, including New Hampshire and Vermont, are considering bills that would significantly weaken these contracts, and the momentum even extends to Capitol Hill, where three senators recently introduced a bill that would ban noncompetes nationwide.

Unfortunately, noncompete agreements are still pervasive. About 30 million U.S. workers, or roughly one in five, are bound by them, according to the U.S. Treasury. And as the salary scale climbs, so does the percentage of those who have signed one. Noncompetes cover about 14% of workers making less than $40,000 and nearly 50% of those making more than $150,000, says a 2019 report from the Economic Innovation Institute. Only California, North Dakota, and Oklahoma forbid enforcing them altogether, and in nearly half of the states, these agreements can prevent even laid-off employees from working in their industry for a year or more.

In Massachusetts, where I’ve been a longtime entrepreneur in the enterprise technology infrastructure industry, Governor Charlie Baker signed a law last year that weakened noncompete agreements. But reforming noncompetes is not enough—these agreements should be eliminated altogether. Noncompetes harm employees, damage the companies who require them, and stifle innovation.

Innovation thrives in a culture of achievement, when people are free to be bold and creative. Noncompetes, on the other hand, create a culture of risk aversion where people may make career decisions based on fear. For example, candidates might not take a job offer due to concerns about signing a noncompete, or employees may not even apply for other positions, because they worry their current employer could file suit against them.

Moreover, employees restrained by these agreements can’t leave to join a startup or create their own company in their area of expertise. In fact, according to the Economic Innovation Institute, in states where noncompetes are enforced, startups are less successful, and employees earn lower wages than in states (like California) where they aren’t enforced.

Today’s employees are highly mobile. Baby boomers, under the age of 48, held nearly 12 different jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and Gallup found that more than one-fifth of Millennials changed jobs just in the last year. Noncompete agreements threaten to lock people into a single company, which can drive talent away, and make it harder to hire the people it needs. When Michigan reversed its ban on noncompetes in 1985, a 2014 study found that the state subsequently suffered a “brain drain” of knowledge workers to states that didn’t enforce them.

While employers use noncompetes for a variety of reasons—to safeguard trade secrets, protect customer relationships, and retain key employees—in truth, there are already separate laws safeguarding intellectual property and customer relationships. Employers, for instance, can have employees sign nondisclosure agreements to protect IP and trade secrets, while nonsolicitation agreements can prevent former employees from poaching customers. A noncompete is simply unnecessary—it doesn’t provide extra protection, it just hampers an employee’s ability to maintain a competitive edge in their field.

As for retaining key employees through noncompetes, those employers who stymie employee mobility with these contracts demonstrate an unwillingness to change with the times. Reduced mobility for workers doesn’t just shrink workers’ job prospects; it also reduces an employer’s potential talent pool. And even when noncompetes are modified or weakened, companies that retain them show that they doubt their ability to retain or compete for talent on a level playing field. That’s not a corporate culture that will fare well in today’s highly competitive job market.

More fundamentally, noncompetes obstruct fairness. Employees should have the right to find work that’s fulfilling and affords them the greatest opportunity to achieve. There’s no good reason to prevent someone from earning a living by using their industry-specific skills and experience. This is even more apparent in sectors outside of technology, where noncompetes can put people out of work for a year or more, even if they are let go without cause.

Ultimately, there are better ways to retain a company’s workforce—such as providing a good work-life balance, strong mentorship programs, career counseling, and opportunities for professional development—without resorting to contracts that both demotivate employees and limit an organization’s ability to innovate.

Ellen Rubin is CEO and co-founder of ClearSky Data.

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