MASSACHUSETTS IS reaping the benefits of a far-sighted decision by iRobot, a Bedford robotics firm, which has adopted a light touch in enforcing its employee non-compete agreements. Instead of calling out the legal cavalry when employees quit the firm, which manufactures the Roomba vacuum-cleaner robot, the company has allowed many to leave for related ventures. The result, according to an analysis in Wired magazine, is that several new robotics firms founded by iRobot alumni have sprung up in the Boston area.
Unfortunately, too many other workers in Massachusetts would be vulnerable to a crippling lawsuit if they tried the same thing. State law allows firms to enforce non-compete clauses, which are restrictive terms in some contracts that prohibit ex-employees from working for competitors. The clauses are meant to protect the investment employers make in training, but in practice they hurt workers, stifle competition, and can lead to bizarre outcomes. In one absurd example last year, a regional sales manager for a beer company was sued after he went to work for another brewer.