Last year I found myself in a real quandary, wondering about the right thing to do. I won't mention the company names out of politeness, though I think a lot of Web writers may recognize them. Here's what happened:
Early last year I was working for a Web content company that supplies articles to a large and popular website. You've heard of it. I had been working for this company, Company X, for almost two years and liked them fine. They were fair with their writers, though the pay wasn't stellar, and the work was plentiful. Then, after almost two years, Company X asked us to sign a non-compete agreement. A few months before that, the company that owned the popular website, Company D, was starting to hire its own writers for 50 percent more per article. I had applied to them and never heard back. I assumed that they weren't going to hire me and forgot about it. Some writers were accepted and started writing for both.
Now, the non-compete agreement request came just after we were told that Company X had just been assured a two-year contract with the popular website. Two years! That's unheard of in Web writing circles. Two full years of unlimited work? Wow, I was certainly interested in staying with them. Meanwhile, many of Company X's writers jumped ship, refusing to sign the NCA and going off to write for Company D. I figured that even if I got in at Company D, they weren't offering that type of contract. And, they limited the number of articles per week that you could write. Even for less money per article, a two-year contract sounded like the way to go. I signed the one-year non-compete agreement. Fine.
The situation rapidly unraveled from there. Very soon after the NCAs were signed, Company X informed us off-handedly that they did not get the contract after all and that they had only two more months of their contract left. I searched the NCA and found that it didn't mention the contract at all. So, we had two months to write as much as we wanted and then the relationship between Company X and the popular website would be severed forever. The website was bulking up Company D and would be hiring all of their own writers for the popular site. That meant no chance of another contract for Company X to supply articles to the site. None.
A month later, I received an acceptance by Company D. It had literally been about six months since I'd applied, so I was extremely surprised. I was accepted by Company D for 50 percent more per article and under the NCA to Company X for another 11 months. So, I didn't write for Company D and focused on writing for Company X while I could. Their contract with the website ended. I had no work from them and another 10 months of a NCA. Odd.
After two months I really started to wonder about the NCA. Was it even legal? Especially since working for Company D wouldn't take business away from Company X. More months passed. I found out that, in fact, NCAs are illegal in my state and in many others. That didn't concern me as much as the ethics involved. If I were to start writing for Company D, was that really ethical, since I'd agreed not to? It wasn't so clear. I had signed the NCA because we were told that Company X had a two-year contract. They didn't. The two companies were no longer connected, and working for Company D would in no way affect Company X. It wouldn't take business away from them, and in fact it wouldn't impact them in any way. So, to start writing for Company D or wait another five months to write for them because of the NCA? Hmmm. What would you have done?