Pando

Amazon demands employees sign 18-month non-compete agreement to get a three-month-long job

By Nathaniel Mott , written on March 26, 2015

From The News Desk

Amazon's warehouse workers have it rough. The positions are often seasonal, pay little more than minimum wage, and require workers to be searched before leaving the warehouse, a sometimes-lengthy process for which they aren't paid. And that's forgetting the exhausting labor and long shifts these jobs require.

Yet the problems don't end there. The Verge reports that these workers must sign non-compete agreements, even if they're only employed for the season, and permanent workers must agree to honor non-compete and non-disclosure agreements if they want to receive their severance package when they're let go.

The agreements last for up to 18 months. Seasonal workers can be employed by Amazon for as few as three. That's a hell of a trade-off, especially considering that the non-compete agreements prevent Amazon's employees from working "at any company where they 'directly or indirectly' support any good or service that competes with those they helped support at Amazon," the Verge reports.

Companies often force employees to sign non-compete agreements if they will have access to privileged information that could damage the business if it's taken to a competitor. But the agreements are being used in more sectors than ever before, many of which don't require that specialized knowledge. As the New York Times reported in a piece about the popularity of these agreements:

Noncompete clauses are now appearing in far-ranging fields beyond the worlds of technology, sales and corporations with tightly held secrets, where the curbs have traditionally been used. From event planners to chefs to investment fund managers to yoga instructors, employees are increasingly required to sign agreements that prohibit them from working for a company’s rivals.

There are plenty of other examples of these restrictions popping up in new job categories: One Massachusetts man whose job largely involved spraying pesticides on lawns had to sign a two-year noncompete agreement. A textbook editor was required to sign a six-month pact. The Washington Post reported in February that one-in-four workers have signed a non-compete agreements in their lifetime; 12.3 percent of those workers are currently under such an agreement. Non-competes aren't just for technical or experienced workers -- they're for anyone who wants to get a job.

What special skill does someone need to work in a warehouse, nail salon, or fast food joint? There doesn't appear to be one, which makes non-compete agreements like Amazon's seem like little more than efforts to ensure seasonal workers can always come back when they're needed to meet demand.

If you work three months at a time and agree not to work for a competitor for 18 months after that, when would you have the chance to find a similar job, especially when Amazon competes with so many different companies? Or, if you did find the chance, would you be willing to risk Amazon's wrath to take it?

Amazon simply can't have it both ways. It can't employ people for part of the year and then do its best to make sure those people can't work anywhere else. Well, actually, it can, since it views most of its non-technical workers as easily-replaced cogs in its global machine. But that doesn't make this less disgusting.