As a pest control technician, you labor long hours in often times uncomfortable, dirty, and hot conditions. You work hard! You build rapport with many of your customers. You learn your trade inside and out.
After years of working for a pest management company, you’re done lining the pockets of “the man.” You decide to take your pest control knowledge, skills and abilities and start your own pest control business.
Your plan has just one kink. Upon initially becoming a pest control technician, you signed a non-compete agreement with your former employer.
Before you start your own pest control business, first you must understand the non-compete agreement or clause you signed; as many questions arise when it comes to pest control non-competes.
In the second part one of our look at pest control non-competes, let’s take a closer look at the employees perspective:
The Non-Compete Agreement You Signed
These days many pest control companies have their new hires sign a non-compete agreement or clause in order to protect their business; especially the bigger pest control companies. This agreement or clause is a contract in which you the employee (in this case a pest control employee or technician) agree not to enter into or start a similar profession that is in competition against the employer, or your former company.
The terms of the agreement are usually for a span of two or three years, but this may vary from company to company.
If you are even thinking about breaking your pest control non-compete, be prepared for possible legal issues. First and foremost, being in compliance with your legal commitment and still being able to start your own business is the desired outcome. If your former employer wants to enforce the non-compete you signed, it will require legal action. The company must determine if it is worth suing you for breaking the contract, and if they’ll even get paid.
When starting your own company, there is a good chance that you’ll have to compensate your former employer for the customers that leave with you.
Challenging A Non-Compete Agreement: Legal Issues
First, you can move out of the competing area to start your business. You can always return to the market when the non-compete expires; usually two-three years later.
A second option would be to challenge your former employer and the contract you signed. If you have a good relationship with your former employer, they may let you out of your contract if you agree to not take any current customers. If this doesn’t work, you will likely have to challenge the agreement legally.
If you’re going to legally challenge the non-compete you signed, it will require you to be super aggressive. Communication must be documented, and should be done through legal representation or certified mail; Return Receipt Requested. Make copies of everything.
In the challenging process, challenge your former employer on a dollar amount of alleged damages; as you cannot sue someone without proving damages and base your suit on those damages.
You may have to defend the fact that you have taken, or may take, former customers with you in starting your new business. You must challenge the notion that no company can “own” a customer, unless there is an exclusive contract between those two parties that says they are mutually exclusive to do business only with each other.
Like I said before, you may have to compensate your former employer for any customers you take with you; even if you’re still legally able to compete in the same market.
It can be argued that breaking a non-compete agreement, and taking customers away from your former employer, is not only unethical… It’s stealing. Your former employer paid for the trucks, the insurance, the chemicals, the training, the customer service reps; basically all of the overhead. They’ve also spent advertising money, paid sales commissions, and paid for online marketing in order to attain these customers, but also retain them. When a former employee takes these customers, it can be construed as theft.
Not to sound like the moral authority on the matter; but remember, if you start your business this way, it represents the ethics you will take and carry with you.
Starting Your Business The Right Way
Pest control non-competes are very real but they do have limitations. Stealing customers is an area that can get you into some real legal headaches. In starting your own business, you want it start off the right way.
Your best bet is to move out of the competing area. Remember, you can always return two or three years later when the non-compete is up.
If you can sit down with the owners of your current or former company and explain that you want to start your business the “RIGHT WAY” and that you won’t accept any customers from their customer list for two years following leaving them.
You don’t need customers from your current employer in order to get started building our own company. You will want to design a unique and new way of running your pest control business that is your own, and then get your own customers.
I’ve heard a personal account of a former technician who abided by the non-compete agreement when starting his own business. To this day the former employer sends their new over-flow work that they are unable to respond to quick enough during the busiest times of the year to the old technician who left.
This speaks volumes about the benefits of doing things as they should be; or “the right way.” In the long run you will retain the respect of your peers and that of your former employer and co-workers.
If you’re going to break the non-compete agreement, or challenge the contract, be prepared for legal issues. If you are aggressive enough, you may get out of the non-compete agreement.