There are times when an employee has a written employment contract for a specific period of time and setting forth as to when and under what circumstances that employee can be terminated.  These employment agreements may also contain stock options, bonus plans, special benefits, non-competition and non-solicitation provisions.  Traditionally highly paid executives or key employees will have such employment contracts setting forth a specific term of employment, accompanied by provisions for when the employee can be terminated (cause and no-cause), non-competes and non-solicitation, bonuses, benefits, stock options, severance, and the handling of confidential information.  When there is such an employment contract in place, both the employer and employee are bound to comply with the terms and conditions of the contract.

When an employment contract providing for a specific term of employment does not exist, the employee is considered an at-will employee.  An at-will employee can be terminated at any time for any reason, as long as the reason is not a violation of law, such as being in a protected class or in violation of public policy.  In turn, the employee may also terminate his or her employment at any time for any reason.

However, employees are often requested by their employers to sign limited contracts.  Although the employee’s employment remains at-will, the employee has certain restrictions placed upon him or her.  The limited employment contracts are structured to protect the interests of the employer.  Such contracts typically concern non-competition, non-solicitation and confidentiality restrictions, as well as protection of intellectual property rights.  Our firm’s contract lawyers are frequently requested to draft, interpret and/or litigate non-competition contractual provisions.  These employment contract provisions, when enforceable, are designed to restrict an employee's ability to accept employment with a competitive business or start his or her own competitive business.  Although, non-competition agreements are disfavored under Massachusetts law, they are enforced in particular circumstances.

Every contract is different and one's rights are always affected when entering into a contract. Be very careful when drafting and entering any employment contract and make sure that you fully understand how your rights will be affected.  When possible, consult a contract attorney prior to signing any employment contract.

If you have any questions about your employment situation, please fill out the inquiry form or call one of our employment lawyers.