In California, “non-compete” clauses are illegal. In employment contracts there are no exceptions to this rule. Your employer cannot make you sign one, and prospective employers cannot refuse to hire you because you have signed a non-compete with a prior employer. If your employer fires you for not signing one, then that would be wrongful termination.
Unfortunately, many businesses do not know California’s very basic rule. Most other States allow non-competes, and particular issues arise when employees sign non-competes with employers in different states, and then move here to work for that same employer, or move here to work for a California employer in “violation” of their out of state non-compete. For employees working in California, California law still trumps the terms of an out of state contract. However, if your out of state employer sues you in your old state, the non-compete could still be enforced there. You should consult with an attorney if this is your situation as this can get fairly tricky, particularly in contracts with choice of law clauses.
Exceptions for Business Owners
Partnerships, LLCs, and business owners are allowed to agree to limited non-compete clauses in relation to the dissolution of a partnerships, LLC, and when businesses are sold. For example, a partner who leaves a partnership can agree that the partner will not practice a similar business within a specified geographic area in which the partnership is currently operating.