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Few folks are aware there are sometimes legal considerations when leaving their employer to go to work for the competition. In fact, the laws differ from state to state. For instance, if you’re a California resident, you can start your own business that competes with an employer you just left – and you can go after those clients you once worked with while employed with your new competition. And it’s legal, says A. Harrison Barnes, attorney and founder. It’s what you don’t know, however, that can land you in legal hot water.

You can be sure that protective mechanisms are in place with your employer that will alert the right leaders when something’s not quite right. For instance, if several employees resign at the same time for no apparent reason, it could be construed as an effort by them to create their own business. While it’s certainly not illegal to do any of that, the problems come in should you incorporate on any level the secrets of your employer’s success or efforts are made to steal confidential information (even if you unknowingly do it), says the founder.

Further, if you attempt to sway those employees left behind to come on board with your new company, it can be considered wrongful conduct and might result in threats of a lawsuit or worse, the actual filing of a lawsuit. If it can be proven that you caused the company undue hardships, you could be held liable. Everything is tracked these days, including your access to company information in those final days before you leave your employer. If your user name and password was used to access backup files or other information, or if the company cameras catch you sneaking out with manila files in your coat, you could find yourself in a lot of trouble, says A. Harrison Barnes.

More and more companies are brining complete legal staffs on board to protect their interests. These attorneys are trained in proper documentation, exit interviews (including what questions the company can legally ask you) and also to help companies understand legal documents such as non-compete clauses and nondisclosure agreements.

Barnes advises employees who are considering going into competition with the company that taught them everything they know to secure legal representation early on in the game. This will ensure your efforts are above board and cannot be construed as illegal. An employment attorney can help you forge ahead in your new business venture without crossing any legal or ethical lines in the process. Also, Barnes recommends that you not appear to be doing anything behind the scenes. Always be above board in your actions and ideally, you’ll work with your soon to be former employer so that they’re not left with a bad feeling about you and wondering what you took that’s soon going to be a threat to it.

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