I lied to get out of a non-compete, and now it’s coming back to haunt me

A reader writes:

I work in a medical/social services field, in which most employers are nonprofit organizations (think along the lines of a blood bank). My first company, a nonprofit in a mid-sized city where I worked from 2009-2012, required all employees to sign a non-compete agreement that prohibited us from working for the same type of company or any of our partner organizations (say, a medical research company we collaborated with, the lab that performed our serological testing, etc.) anywhere else in the state or within X miles of the state’s border for two years after separation. (This contract seemed, and still seems, bonkers to me. Most employees made under $40k/year doing community-oriented work for this nonprofit. We didn’t have access to top secret info or cutting edge tech. We were regular I-want-to-make-a-difference nonprofit idealists.)

I was in my 20s and wanted to move to a major city within the same state and continue my career. I consulted with an attorney about the non-compete and she agreed it was probably unenforceable due to how restrictive it was, but she couldn’t guarantee I wouldn’t be sued. So I went to the executive director and lied. I said my mom, who lived in the major city, was terminally ill (she was not; in fact, she remains healthy as a horse and I hope she continues to), and I wanted to move closer to my parents. I explained that I would like to continue my career and asked for his blessing to do so without fear of a lawsuit. He agreed not to pursue legal action against me as long as I did not work for the same exact type of organization. I moved, got a new job with a different type of organization in the same broad field (think human breast milk banking), didn’t get sued, and had a nice few years in the city.

Recently I moved back to the original mid-size city. A director-level job opening just came up with the original organization. I now have a master’s degree and nearly a decade of managerial experience. I’m a perfect fit. The pay is great, especially for the area, the work sounds interesting, and I’m still passionate about the industry. I really liked working for this organization, aside from the bonkers non-compete agreement. I applied and was granted an interview, which is coming up next week.

So here’s my question: am I about to commit a huge mistake by interviewing with a company I totally lied to? If asked directly, how will I — or should I even– explain that my mom is not in fact dead (as she should be 11 years after receiving a “terminal diagnosis?”). I should never admit I lied, right? In my defense, I only did so because I needed to keep working, and I’m now 14 years into my career and I still earn under $60k/year, so it’s not like I’ve been laughing all the way to the bank since I told The Lie. If it helps, I never disclosed anything about the organization to any other entity (not that I had any information to disclose).

First, for the record, I’m not happy about the lie. (I am also way too superstitious to ever make up that sort of story, as I am convinced karma would promptly make a loved one sick, but if you aren’t burdened with that kind of superstitious thinking, more power to you.)

But your non-compete was ridiculous and overreaching, and it was unethical for the organization to try to bind you to those terms — more unethical, I’d argue, than your lie, given that they were trying to restrict your ability to earn an income and work in your chosen profession without any legitimate cause.

When employers — who are acting from a position of greater power than their employees — overreach, they’re asking for people to be dishonest with them, because that’s often the only power workers have to level the playing field. (See also: saying you have no plans to leave when your boss asks if you’re job searching, even if you’re actively interviewing.)

So while I don’t love the lie, I understand why you resorted to it: your employer was wrongly trying to constrain your ability to work. In fact, because most non-competes overreach and harm workers, the federal government has proposed outlawing them altogether and some states have already banned or heavily restricted them.

As for what to do now … at this point it’s likely to hurt you to come clean. “I deliberately lied to garner your sympathy so I could get out of a legal agreement” carries a very high risk of torpedoing your candidacy. All you can really do if you’re asked about your mom is to say, “She’s doing great — she’s had a much better outcome than we’d feared.” That’s a thing that happens (hell, it’s happening to my family right now, although my mom still has a terminal diagnosis) and it’s very unlikely that the company will go poking around in the details. And really, 11 years later, they may not even remember much about it. You will almost certainly be fine.

Don’t lie about family members being ill again though! This was your freebie.

{ 253 comments… read them below }

    1. Melissa*

      When I read this, I thought you meant the letter writer’s mother, and that you were being superstitious. Then I realized you probably meant Allison’s mom, which makes more sense!

    2. Jamie*

      That’s fantastic news about your mom, Alison, I hope things continue to go better than expected!

    3. tinyhipsterboy*

      Seconding this! Or at least good thoughts and vibes. All the gay magic I can spare. I’m sorry you have to go through it, Allison.

  1. Peanut Hamper*

    Lying is never a great choice. But ridiculous companies policies sometimes make it seem like one.

    1. Daisy*

      Not doing similar work anywhere in the state or over the border sounds overreaching and legally unenforceable. It isn’t like these employees have nuclear codes in their heads and the world is in danger if they are kidnapped by space aliens.
      IMO most of these non competes are used to prevent employees from earning higher wages at other companies.

      1. Peanut Hamper*

        Yes, that is is exactly — it is to prevent people from quitting.

        Of course, the best ways to increase retention is to provide a decent salary and benefits and a great working environment, but the best most places can do is pizza on Friday twice a year. Oh, yay.

      2. TootsNYC*

        In most cases, you have to be given something extra in exchange for your promise. Like, a bonus, or you have to have been an owner, or something.

      3. Antilles*

        It’s almost certainly legally unenforceable. Broadly speaking, courts have consistently decided that you have a right to earn a living, so they need to be giving you consideration for these sorts of agreements to hold up. And the usual carrot/stick approach of “sign this if you want to keep your current role” doesn’t meet that standard; it usually has to be ongoing consideration (e.g., severance post-departure). Of course, most companies aren’t actually interested in paying you to not work for them, so if challenged, they’d just let it go. But of course, it still serves as a nice intimidation factor to keep you from leaving because do you the individual employee really want to risk having to deal with the lawsuit over it.

      4. OMG, Bees!*

        It sounds like the type of company to throw policies around and only wait to find out they aren’t legally enforceable later, hoping most people will think it is.

    2. Beth*

      “When employers — who are acting from a position of greater power than their employees — overreach, they’re asking for people to be dishonest with them, because that’s often the only power workers have to level the playing field.”

      Bang on the nose (or on the thumb, if you prefer). Comparable to other kinds of toxic relationship, when lying is the only way to get out with any safety, but the person who needs to get out is likely to feel squeamish about lying to their abuser.

      1. Smithy*

        Absolutely this.

        I was on a team of one where my boss was the CEO and my stories about her are the stuff of Disney cartoon villainy. I was working for a small nonprofit outside of the US that very very few in the US would have ever heard of and not making a lot of money. My boss also didn’t speak English well. And I NEEDED her to serve as a reference.

        So when I gave notice, I said it was because my dad was ill and I wanted to be closer to home. While it was true my dad’s health wasn’t great, and anywhere I lived in the US would have me be “closer to home” – that was the reason I gave because I was scared of my boss’ reaction and I was hoping for sympathy.

        There was no non-compete situation, but the motivations of needing work and feeling trapped all drove how I gave notice.

        1. Quill*

          I did not lie about this sort of thing but I do give a standard answer when asked why I left my ridiculously bad worst job. I left for other opportunities (the opportunity to not be yelled at daily for not being psychic) and better pay (I was not being paid anything like enough to put up with any of this.)

    3. Ally McBeal*

      The phrase “strict parents make sneaky kids” jumped to mind while reading this. I suppose the same applies to businesses.

  2. President Porpoise*

    Nothing to add to the response – just want to say, Alison, that I am so glad your mother is doing better!

  3. ThatGirl*

    I agree with the advice – sometimes diagnoses are wrong! Sometimes outcomes are better than expected! We have friends whose mom has survived glioblastoma, which is practically unheard of. But definitely don’t do that again.

    And Alison, I’m so glad to hear about your mom. My uncle was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer a little over 2 years ago and after surgery, chemo and radiation is currently in remission. It may kill him yet one day but we’re thankful for every good day he has.

    1. SansSerif*

      My husband had a friend that lived over 20 years after his pancreatic cancer diagnosis. Best of luck to your uncle!

      1. Siege*

        Yep, I lost contact with a friend’s mother in law but she was still going more than five years after a three-months-to-live diagnosis.

        1. Working*

          After 11 years, it’s unlikely that anyone will know or care.

          In fact, your HR file from back then will at the very least be archived and possibly destroyed.

      2. Emma*

        Until I began working with claims related to hospice care, I had no clue how common it is for people to improve and no longer need it, or to be on it for years.

    2. Ally McBeal*

      Agreed. My friend was diagnosed in 2009 with Stage 4 inoperable brain cancer… it was a long, hard fight but he’s been in remission for something like 5-6 years now.

    3. Ukdancer*

      Yes, terminal prognosis are not an exact science. My grandfather was diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer and given 9-12 months. He lasted many more years after that.

      Treatments continue to evolve and people can get better or just keep going.

      I think if anyone says anything it’s fine to indicate a better than anticipated recovery and move swiftly on.

    4. Grim*

      Complete misdiagnoses of terminal illnesses also happen! A few years ago dad got diagnosed with mesothelioma, and the doctors estimated he had less than a year left to live. The diagnosis was certain enough that he was starting to get his affairs in order, but three months and a few more tests later, the diagnosis was instead revised to “we don’t know exactly what’s wrong with your lungs, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to kill you any time soon.” He’s fine now, but it was a very weird and terrible three months.

      Anyway, I don’t know that it would be a good idea of LW to embellish her lie further with these sorts of details, but assuming anyone around even remembers or wants to enquire about the situation, a vague but positive answer like Alison’s will probably go down fine. Most people in a professional context probably won’t want to pry more deeply into your family’s medical issues.

    5. Hot Flash Gordon*

      Terminal doesn’t always mean imminent death. My aunt was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer because if she stopped treatment with drugs, the cancer would come back and she would die. So, she was considered terminal but responsive to treatment. Eventually, the cancer resisted treatments and, at the time, there were no other options and she did succumb to cancer. I’ve known people with kidney disease that are able to manage their illness with effective treatments, but the kidney disease will not go away unless they get a transplant, so they’re technically considered terminally ill (i.e. when they pass away, it will most likely be due to complications from kidney disease).

      1. amoeba*

        Yup, terminal basically doesn’t say anything about how long you have left – just that the disease cannot be cured, so you cannot ever stop treating it and you’ll probably die from it eventually. When that “eventually” is is actually not very clear in most cases!

        (When my dad was diagnosed with colorectal cancer, the most precise estimate we ever got from a doctor was “could be a few weeks, could be ten years, although I wouldn’t bet on ten years”. He still lived for four years after that with operations and chemo.)

    6. Candi*

      As long as LW loops their mother in just in case the universe’s demented sense of humor means her mother somehow meets someone from the company who remembers.

    7. Candi*

      In the noncancer vein (she got that later) 3 1/2 years before covid mother was diagnosed with a rare condition I can never remember the name of that meant her internal membranes, like her lungs, were gradually hardening. The doctors gave her a year.

      She also qualified to participate in an experimental treatment -and the administrating hospital is in the county north of ours. That’s what bought her the extra 2 1/2 years.

      The cancer emerged in her last year, went into remission, came back, and by then she was also suffering from the first stages of dementia. She went downhill pretty fast in the last 6-8 months. But it’s pretty certain covid would have killed her if she’d survived to get it.

  4. A Poster Has No Name*

    Is the same ED still in charge? If not, I doubt anyone will even know about it, let alone ask about it.

    Glad to hear your mom is doing better, Alison!

    1. Myrin*

      I was wondering about that. Knowing absolutely nothing about this field, is it likely that anyone would even remember OP’s situation?

    2. ferrina*

      This. It’s pretty unlikely that anyone will remember this outside of the person that the lie was originally told to. Even if he mentioned it to someone, they will either not remember or think that they misheard something.

      Don’t say anything, and you’re likely in the clear.
      (Not that I advocate lying- this seems like a mistake by a desperate young person who had almost no power and was trying to get out of a crappy situation with an unfair non-compete clause)

    3. BRR*

      In addition to the ED still being there. I’m wondering if there was any documentation. If the only knowledge of this agreement was with the ED and they’re gone, it’s possible nobody there even knows.

    4. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      In addition to whether the ED is still there though – does the company still have that noncompete policy? If so, what is OPs plan for overcoming it next time?

    5. Itsa Me, Mario*

      My thought was that, at worst, after getting the job, LW might run into that same coworker again, who might somehow remember the thing with their mom? So more of an awkward break room/holiday party/elevator moment than make or break to actually get the job.

      Unless that person is the hiring manager for this role, of course.

    6. That's True*

      That was my thought. It’s likely the ED is no longer at the org, if they’re still there, has zero recollection of why a particular entry-level employee left ten years ago. Keep quiet and hope for the best.

    7. ecnaseener*

      That’s what I was thinking too. If people remember anything, it’ll be that you had to move for personal/family reasons. If some steel-trap mind does remember the specifics, they’re hardly going to say “Your mom was dying when you left, right? How did that go?”

      1. Michelle Smith*

        True, but also probably best not to invite mom to the company picnic or whatever too. Just don’t bring her up at all, ever.

        1. amoeba*

          Eh, I’d be much too scared to slip up and casually mention my mom at some point, so I’d try to casually drop in a “thank god it turned out the disease wasn’t terminal after all, she’s fine!” at some point to avoid any additional complications…

  5. Sara*

    OP – Were you super specific? Or just broadly “she’s terminal and I want to be there for her” without giving away the ‘official’ diagnosis. Because if you said “my mom has Stage 16 Death Sentence and has weeks to live” then you have a much bigger hole to climb out of than a general sick parent with a miraculous recovery. I’d try to remain as general as possible in answering questions – misdiagnosis, or treatment worked etc and move on as quickly as possible.

    This does remind me of Monty Python’s “She turned me into a newt! Well, I got better”.

    Alison I’m glad your mom is doing well!

    1. MK*

      Also, I think if the OP was very young, people would be likely to think she misunderstood the situation in the first place. It wouldn’t be implausible for a 20-something to hear “cancer” and assume the worst, even if it was a curable form, like thyroid.

    2. WellRed*

      I don’t understand why OP didn’t just keep it broad in the first place. How about “I want to move closer to family?” No need to pretend kill off relatives. I’d love an update on this and hope it works out.

      1. Silver Robin*

        I think it has to do with trying to come up with something intense and sympathetic enough to get the organization to make an exception for what appeared to be a very intense policy. I can totally understand thinking that wanting to move closer to family would not be enough of a reason for the ED to give an exception, since it could be seen as just a preference.

      2. Sloanicota*

        Yeah, it’s tough, because it’s possible that only the extremity of the “situation” made the boss feel bad enough for OP to oblige them – which is actually really crappy, because the harm being done is actually more to other people who really *are* in that terrible situation, and have to deal with increased skepticism/scrutiny as a result of others demonstrably using it to get a no-questions-asked free pass. I agree OP would have been on higher moral ground to use a broader cover story … but, OP was young, the restriction was unfair, and hopefully they’ll learn and go forth and sin no more.

      3. K in Boston*

        Pretending to have super-sick relatives tends to be a thing that doesn’t warrant much additional conversation or pushback from a reasonably empathetic human being. I highly doubt the Executive Director in this scenario would’ve dropped the non-compete if OP just wanted to be closer to family, at least not without many more questions. I actually wouldn’t even be surprised if they started with something broader like, “I want to move closer to family,” and then had to get more specific (and dire) in order for the ED to get on board. I’m by no means advocating fake-killing-off family members, but I definitely get it.

        And yes, also hope this works out for OP! Like Alison said, lying isn’t great, but when someone’s trying to control your livelihood like that, you do what you have to do.

      4. Itsa Me, Mario*

        Honestly, this is a situation where OP probably could have just explained the actual truth — “I have a planned move to [other city], where I was hoping to work in an adjacent field. What are your thoughts about the non-compete clause?” — and it probably would have been fine. Maybe lay it on a little bit thicker, but not “terminal illness” thick, if the manager really does say they would sue her if she went to work as a low-level employee at another blood bank somewhere else. Which feels like… not something that would actually happen?

        That said, I remember being in my early 20s when everything to do with work felt much higher stakes than just being transparent and asking for what I needed. I definitely invented some situations that probably weren’t necessary, myself.

  6. Stephanie*

    Yeah, I’d say nothing. That being said, I’d wonder what else is lurking under the surface (at a leadership level) if the organization thinks that that bonkers non-compete is ok. I’d be hesitant to go back to a place like that, but I don’t have the full picture to be fair…

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      That’s a very good point – but 11 years later, and coming back at a higher level, there is real possibility that a) the organizations structure and values have changed or b) OP might be in a better position to push back or proactively address the issue. It’s definitely something OP should keep in mind, but I’d consider it more of a yellow-orange flag than a red one.

      1. PotsPansTeapots*

        Yeah, my first thought was that 99% of people at this company know the non-compete’s bonkers. Even if they suspect something, they may not care all that much.

      2. Le Sigh*

        This is what I was thinking. Noncompetes still exist and are still a problem, but I feel like there’s been noticeable pushback over the last several years bc it really got out of hand. It’s possible there has been enough management change that it was done away with.

        Whereas in the late 2000s, it felt like every employer was adding them — it started with bigger companies and high-level execs (which makes more sense) and before you knew it, Panera or Jimmy Johns are making a cashier sign a noncompete that says they can’t work for any fast casual chain in the U.S. bc … I guess a minimum wage employee has state secrets about how the bread is made?

    2. TeapotNinja*

      Maybe the OP, if hired, will be high enough in the organization to put an end to this ridiculous policy.

      It’s exactly the kind that has caused legislators to look into banning them outright.

      1. Adele*

        That’s exactly what I came here to say. If it’s still the policy, OP should push to end it for the sake of other employees. But if it’s not, then probably OP doesn’t have anything to worry about because someone eventually realized it was a bad policy.

  7. Not Tom, Just Petty*

    Just be prepared for someone to remember. Don’t be tempted to add to the lie, or reimagine it “no. It was my grandmother.”
    Just use Allison’s script and then. stop. talking.
    The person is only trying to connect, “hello, fellow human. I remember you,” not interrogate.
    This too shall pass.
    Good luck on the interview .

    1. Silver Robin*

      “only trying to connect, not interrogate” is a good thing to remember. Fortunately, on the off chance somebody is trying to be an inquisitor, you use the exact same tactic. No reason to mention any of it except to connect as a fellow human, obviously, so just let it pass.

    2. Smithy*

      Yes, I think this is good context – and also I think it’s helpful for the OP to think of this as a way to forgive their younger self. They were young in their career, in the nonprofit sector, not making a lot of money, and also trying to live their life.

      A choice was made at that time, after being thoughtful enough to consult a lawyer! And while us commenters now may say a smarter lie could have been chosen like a terminal grandparent or a “very ill” parent, if wishes were horses then we would ride. So while anyone potentially reaching out is just trying to connect, it’s also important for the OP to forgive themselves for this lie. There’s no need to punish themselves and not apply for this job, but this is also just a reality that exists.

  8. Ann O'Nemity*

    Will the org require you to sign another non-compete? If so, I’d think long and hard about going back there.

    1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      Good point. Hopefully the company has changed and is no longer this shortsighted. Seriously, unless you have a billion dollar email list or the one sure fire way to raise funds, there is no need for a non-compete in a nonprofit.

      While yes, the non-compete was probably uneforceable, a costly lawsuit to find out was not the best option. But I agree with Alison, never lie about family member’s health.

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        I had the same reaction at first on non-competes at nonprofits.

        Thinking about it more, years ago I worked at a nonprofit that ran a networking program for a whole lot of senior-level people at organizations around the city, and they really tried to instill a culture of “do not take a job with us just to try to get connected to our various Board members and community partners, and never approach people involved in our programs for networking opportunities for your own career”. They never made people sign anything, though – saying you could never go work for an organization run by someone involved in our org would have been way too broad given the reach of the network.

        1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

          That’s just silly. Anyone who works the networking program is going to come into contact with the higher ups. If a higher up notices them at an event and chats to them, is the person networking to enhance their career? Can they never go to work for that organization because someone spoke to them in the course of their job?

          I get the don’t work for us SOLELY to get the chance to network. But once you are there, networking is going to happen unless you never ever see or speak to anyone.

      2. Itsa Me, Mario*

        I’m also a little confused about how a non-compete like this would even be enforced among entry-level employees? I came to my current job from another similar company which I guess would be considered one of our “competitors”. Most of my colleagues did, as well. If we’d signed non-competes like this, we would never be able to work in our field ever again. Which I suppose could make sense in a time when most people worked for the same company for life, but that’s very much not true any longer.

        My partner works for a nonprofit which has several “competitors” in the same space in our city. (Very analogous to something like a blood bank; in fact if LW didn’t literally work in a blood bank, I’m wondering if it’s the same type of nonprofit.) I can’t imagine a world where, if he went to work for one of the “competitor” organizations for any reason, he would be sued.

    2. Someone Else's Boss*

      You can also try to negotiate out of the noncompete. My company “requires” them, but I didn’t sign one and I still work here.

      1. Anat*

        I was able to modify my noncompete down from a ridiculous “can’t do this kind of — pretty broad — work anywhere, nor work for anyone who might ever be our client” to the more reasonable “can’t work for our direct competitors or our current clients”.

        I said if they wanted me to commit to not working for 2 years after leaving, they’d have to pay me a LOT more.

        1. But I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night*

          I am not a lawyer, but it seems to me that I’d rather have a ridiculously over-the-top NDA than a narrow one because the over-the-top one is less enforceable and more likely to be thrown out entirely by a judge. Any real lawyers on here care to offer an opinion?

          1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

            Either way you are stuck with lawyer’s fees. The best option is no non-compete at all. They are silly and stupid –as noted above they exist mainly to keep people from quitting. I mean yeah, if you have truly proprietary information then yes. But there are already rules about sharing proprietary information.

          2. Itsa Me, Mario*

            Not a lawyer and this isn’t legal advice, but my guess is what you really want to avoid is actually doing the kind of thing that an NDA or non-compete is trying to protect against. For example, if you signed a broad NDA that suggests you can’t tell your spouse what company you work for (insane and unenforceable), while you probably *can* tell your spouse what you do for a living, you probably shouldn’t sell photos of your top secret project to the media. If you sign the kind of non-compete LW dealt with, the reality is that you probably can relocate and work for a similar company elsewhere. But you probably shouldn’t steal the mailing list and bring it with you.

          3. JB (not in Houston)*

            In my state, the judge won’t throw out an overbroad noncompete. Instead, the judge will amend the agreement to make it more narrow in scope.

          4. Weaponized Pumpkin*

            I negotiated my non-compete coming into my current job, and had the outlandish stuff struck out. After the fact I questioned if this was smart — would I have been better off with a clearly outrageous agreement that could not be enforced? Had I actually made it more enforceable with my changes? I’ll always wonder.

      2. Sloanicota*

        When I was a freelancer, a lot of companies would combine terrible noncompetes in with their standard NDAs – like, non-competes that would have put me out of business (“you shall never accept freelance work from any of our clients **or potential clients**” – eg everyone under the sun). I always struck through those parts and returned only the NDA portion signed, and it was always fine every time. The only time it was a problem was with administrators who didn’t have the power/authority/common sense to review the document and understand why it didn’t apply in this case, so I usually returned it to a more senior person instead. If they had insisted, I would have had to decline the work as it wasn’t paying me enough to go out of business on. Note: tons of freelancers tell you to sign it anyway, as it’s unenforceable so who cares, but that’s just not how I’m comfortable doing business.

        1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

          Do not sign, do not sign, just because it is presumed unenforceable.

          An agreement is only uneforceable when a court says it is. Which will take longer than you think and cost you more than you think.

    3. Jiminy Cricket*

      I took the noncompetes management wanted me to get my team to sign (post-hiring) and put them in my inbox, unsigned, where they sat until we all left the company.

      I don’t recommend this tactic unless you are willing to go scorched earth with an employer, but I was.

  9. Jen (they or she pronouns please)*

    I know this is not about the post, but it’s really great that your mum is better than expected and the medications is working! Good luck and good wishes to you and your family.

  10. Miss Misconduct*

    After eleven years, I don’t think anyone would remember to ask. Even if they did, I don’t know if anyone would feel comfortable bringing up OP’s mother (who could be deceased for all they know) in a work setting.

    1. Jojo*

      I am one of those annoying people who remembers this kind of detail and catch all kinds lies and discrepancies. If I remembered 11 years ago you mentioned that your mom was terminal, I would not ask about it now, because I wouldn’t want to bring up a difficult topic when the answer is likely going to be about a bad outcome. However, that little piece of knowledge would be tucked in my head, and if I heard you talking about going to visit your mom, or something like that, I would be wondering what was going on. I’m not crass enough to ask about it, but in my experience, there are a lot of people who are. Just something to keep in mind if you do go back there.

      1. Sparkles McFadden*

        Yeah, I remember when people tell lies and it does make me question everything that person says forever after. But, if I knew about the non-compete clause, I would complete excuse that lie and assume nothing. (A note to LW: How often would your mom come up in conversation anyway, especially after 11 years? A vague “Things turned out much better than anyone expected” is fine, and it has the benefit of being true for you job-wise!)

        My personal issue with lying is that it would require me to remember things that didn’t actually happen, and I need the brain space for real things. Yes, the morality thing is a problem (and I share the superstition over the “mom is terminal” lie) but I, too, am OK with someone lying to managers over insane things.

      2. Not my coffee*

        Her mom could have gotten better. It happens. (Yes I know her mon wasn’t sick.)

        If you bought it up, you might be considered odd. “Hey isn’t your mom os still alive?”

        Sometimes people get away with stuff.

        1. Insert Clever Name Here*

          That’s exactly why Jojo said they wouldn’t bring it up. Just that they’d notice.

  11. Jane Bingley*

    Frankly, I’d encourage you to apply for the role, and if you receive it and once you’re settled, consider advocating for changing the NDA policy. You don’t have to draw on your personal experience – just point out that it’s expansive and unnecessary, and request a review of whether it’s even enforceable. You could potentially change this for the next person!

  12. DisneyChannelThis*

    I’m not sure I’d want to go back to working for a company with that type of agreement.

    Separately, the lie was bad, but what else are you supposed to do? Just not work in your field ever again because this company said not to?? That’s insane.

    1. Daisy*

      The idea is that you will never leave the company for greener pastures. NDAs are totally for the companies benefit.
      Originally used to protect proprietary business information key employees would work with (and compensated appropriately for their security level) they have morphed into handcuffs for low level employees.

  13. Jessica Clubber Lang*

    I don’t think lying in situations like this is really a big issue. Of course YMMV and there may be superstitious folks who wouldn’t mention a relative, but I’d say treat it like you would when you lie by saying you have a dr’s appt when you have an interview, that kind of thing

  14. Budgie Buddy*

    That lie is YIKES. 0.O

    Like the company itself seemed like it didn’t care too much about enforcing the noncompete and was open to allowing exceptions. They might even have been sympathetic to someone who just wants to live and work near family.

    But woof I hope the lie never comes to the surface because I would seriously question someone’s judgment if they said that and years later considered it a minor woopsie. My perspective might be skewed because I strongly dislike giving false information at all, but there are topics so extreme (abuse, assault, bigotry, terminal illness, being involved in a major disaster) I just can’t imagine making them up whole cloth.

    I dunno I think if you have to lie it should be the blandest thing possible. Maybe because inventing a tragedy seems disrespectful to the people who those things have actually happened to.

    1. Delphine*

      “Like the company itself seemed like it didn’t care too much about enforcing the noncompete and was open to allowing exceptions. They might even have been sympathetic to someone who just wants to live and work near family.”

      We don’t know that. In fact, since the executive director essentially said, “Okay, I won’t sue you as long as you still abide by one particular aspect of the noncompete,” I would assume that the company *would* have enforced the noncompete.

      1. Silver Robin*

        agreed; a non-compete that intense understandably creates an assumption that only a sufficiently intense “excuse” could get somebody an exception. And the ED’s original response supports that logic.

        1. Quill*

          The more draconian the expectation the more ridiculous the lie. It comes up in every phase of life – teenagers who will be grounded forever if they miss their curfew by five minutes come up with extremely convoluted whoppers and teenagers who won’t feel more comfortable saying “hey sorry I thought I left early enough to get back but it turns out it takes twenty five minutes to drive home and not fifteen like I thought.”

      2. Natascha OP*

        It’s me, the OP.

        I know The Lie was yikes. I think about it a lot, TBH, and feel like $hit about it.

        I DID think I’d be sued, though. My attorney advised that my employer was extremely litigious. And I wasn’t released from the noncompete entirely: I still stayed out of blood banking for the next 3 years. I returned to the field in 2015.

        1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

          Are they still litigious? Are you sure you want to go back there? Sure its sounds like a great job. But unless a lot has changed in 11 years, is it worth it? I mean you had to leave your field for 3 years (which is a really long time).

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            Agreed, I’ve expressed the employer may have changed in other comments but “extremely litigious” is a big risk if they haven’t

        2. Nea*

          So… you obeyed the rules of the noncompete and you didn’t benefit financially from the lie and you gained a lot of good job skills *useful to the original company* in the meantime?

          There were no victims of this lie. There’s nothing to feel bad about!

        3. Budgie Buddy*

          Hi OP – thanks for responding here and elsewhere.

          I do feel differently with the acknowledgment that the lie was yikes and it’s a thing you did in the past that you definitely don’t want to repeat. I think that didn’t quite come across in the original post which is why some people zeroed in on that aspect.

          This company sounds bonkers.

          1. Natascha OP*

            Budgie, thank you for seeing that I want to be more ethical going forward, because I do. I didn’t think the lie was a great idea, even at the time, but the alternative was staying at the company in the same small city and not making the kind of career progress I desired. TBH, I still haven’t made heroic progress… I don’t make a ton of money and I’m underemployed for my current level of experience and education. I am considering leaving the field altogether. Most of my applications have been to positions in different industries, but I haven’t gotten any offers, possibly because I’m a career-long blood/ breast milk banker, which is pretty niche.

        4. Heather*

          On behalf of the universe, I absolve you. Don’t feel guilty! There were zero negative outcomes from your lie, and it was completely negated by that horrible policy. You sound like a nice and conscientious person and you really don’t need to feel bad about this at all.

        5. learnedthehardway*

          Don’t beat yourself up over it – really, don’t. You worked for a NON-PROFIT – they’re supposed to be on the more altruistic side of things. It’s not like you had the secret to solving mortality that you were going to sell. A non-compete was a ridiculous thing in the first place.

          In Canada, most non-competes are unenforceable UNLESS the employer can demonstrate a very solid reason for having one – that includes reasonable geographic boundaries and a reasonable time limit and a reasonable scope of activities. There has to be a bonafide business reason for why the non-compete exists. The courts look very dimly on companies arbitrarily restricting the rights of people to be gainfully employed – and rightly so!!

          If anyone asks, your mom responded surprisingly well to treatment and is in remission. The disease wasn’t as advanced as they’d initially thought (which is technically very true).

          Alison – all the best to your mom for her health.

          1. David*

            In Ontario, new noncompetes are illegal except for executives or founders of a purchased company who are then coming onboard as an employee. Existing noncompetes are still subject to common law and the restrictions you mentioned, of course.

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I respect that point of view but I don’t necessarily agree. If you’re looking for someone to make a major exception to a contract, bland lies often won’t do it. And people operating in bad faith (which this kind of NDA says to me) don’t deserve good faith consideration in return.

      I wouldn’t tell this kind of lie at this point in my life, but young underpaid and desperate I might have and I don’t personally judge OP for doing what they felt they had to do to get through at the time.

      1. Nea*

        That’s what I was thinking – that a bland lie wouldn’t get someone out of that ridiculous, career-hampering contract clause. The company was the one that chose to act punitively in bad faith, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to the company that people return that bad faith.

        It’s not like OP was scamming for money or time off or even sympathy – OP just wanted their right to choose their own career!

        1. Jessica*


          When you’re trying to get out of an exploitative organization with power over your life, lying to protect yourself or other workers is a rational (and, I’d argue, not particularly unethical) choice. Don’t lie in a way that hurts your fellow workers, don’t lie in a way that directly harms the company (e.g. sabotage), and don’t lie unnecessarily.

          But lying to get out of there? Say whatever you need to say as long as it doesn’t harm other people (and no, companies aren’t people).

          1. learnedthehardway*

            Very good point – if the OP had needed a reference from the organization – being fairly junior in her career – that would have put her in an even worse position wrt being exploited, if her employer had unnecessarily refused to provide her a reference over the fact that she was going to another similar organization in a different geography.

        2. Budgie Buddy*

          To be honest I don’t really understand the difference between lying to get permission to take a new job w/o retaliation versus lying for those other motivations. They all seem like they could be understandable depending on circumstances.

          Although sympathy is a bit more of a problematic example to me because inevitably people ARE going to be sympathetic when they hear someone’s loved one is dying. Whether you want people to feel that way or not, it’s going to happen unless the other person is a total jerk.

      2. Budgie Buddy*

        Yeah I see that. The company might have still been jerks about it.

        I guess for me I just couldn’t bring myself to appropriate someone else’s real trauma for my own benefit even if the benefit was super clear and the risk that big. The company being super scummy wouldn’t make me want to be scummy in response, you know? Like that value exists completely separately from what other people are doing.

        1. Kevin Sours*

          Something to think about, if the company were jerks about it what happens? OP is stuck in a job paying crap wages with no avenue to further her career. That’s exactly what these noncompetes are intended to do: make it impossible for employees to leave so the employer doesn’t have put any effort into retention. Like decent wages or acceptable working conditions. It’s not just about this one job, OP will be in exactly the same place for the next one.

          I think “super scummy” doesn’t capture the level the harm being imposed. And desperation makes people do questionable things — particularly when they are young, have fewer options, and may be less aware of the options they do have.

          Have a little grace.

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            This is where I come down. This isn’t just shady, it’s fundamentally impeding career and livelihood, and doing so from a place of extreme power over a young person with little capital of their own. Do what you have to do under those circumstances.

            I offer my real trauma up to be appropriated under such circumstances, for anyone who needs it.

          2. Budgie Buddy*

            Oh, if the company wrote in I’d definitely slam them. But they didn’t; OP did. And OP has also shared in her responses that she thinks the lie was bad and she feels ashamed about it.

            (I think the non compete was 2 years tho? So OP would have been able to take any job after that?)

            “Have a little grace” seems in bad faith here. Sometimes grace means supporting people learning and growing, not saying “Well you did an oopsie but you were really in a bind so you can’t be held responsible for your actions.”

            1. Admin Lackey*

              I don’t think it’s in bad faith, I think it’s an expression of a different worldview from “lying is bad, no matter your motivations or the outcome.”

              The LW was in a bind, they were young, and the company was litigious. And they told a lie that had no victims, ten years ago, so what is there to be held responsible for? Humans aren’t perfect

              Maybe it’s Wrong To Lie in an abstract sense but that’s a particular viewpoint that not everyone shares. It’s not a viewpoint that I share and I think that the LW should show themselves some grace and forgive themselves for the lie. And for the record, I am also someone who pretty much never lies

              1. Eldritch Office Worker*

                +1. I don’t think OP “did an oopsie” (that seems way more in bad faith than “have a little grace” btw). I think they made a defensible choice. Lying can have consequences and worrying about those consequences now is certainly reasonable given the situation, but plenty of things have consequences that I wouldn’t consider fundamentally unethical. Hell, not lying would have also had consequences. Morality is not black and white 95% of the time.

                1. Admin Lackey*

                  Yeah, one thing I’m confused about with the 100% anti-lying comments is what good they think would have come from being truthful in that instance? It’s especially funny because LW didn’t write in asking for absolution and actually still feels bad about the lie, so not sure why people are moralizing

                2. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

                  @Admin Lackey, I hear you and I agree.

                  I’m afraid some people are just black and white thinkers, and when that’s the case, their minds are likely to be closed to seeing any nuances. I don’t get it, either, because my mind has an annoying habit of seeing multiple shades of gray that seem to be invisible to some people.

            2. Kevin Sours*

              Not being able to work in your field for two entire years is a big deal. OP lied to get out of a potentially life derailing situation and lied to the people you deliberately set that situation up. Maybe the could have handled it better, but second guessing how people get themselves out of abusive situations is poor form.

            3. There You Are*

              You’re in a store / pub / restaurant and a creeper guy is hitting on you. You very much want him to go away. Do you say, “Ew, you’re a creeper; leave me alone!” or do you say, “Sorry, I have a boyfriend/husband.”

              One is the truth and the other is a bald-faced lie.

              One could put your life in danger, the other has a greater chance of getting the creeper to leave you alone.

              Do you endanger your life because you are always 100% honest?

              If you wouldn’t lie to save yourself, what about other people? What if you see a guy getting a tad forward with a woman in a bar and she is *clearly* desperate to get away? Saying the truth: “Hey, dude, she’s clearly not interested, please leave her alone,” has a high chance of ending with a confrontation that could get physical.

              What if, instead, you could save her by going over there and saying, “Sharon! I didn’t expect you to get here until later! Come on over to the table, the guys are parking the car and will be right in.”?

  15. cindylouwho*

    I’m glad I’m not the only person who is way too superstitious to ever say anything like that!

  16. EvilQueenRegina*

    After 11 years, I bet a lot of people who were there at the time might well have left anyway, but yes, if you do come across someone who remembers and brings it up, use Alison’s suggested script and leave it at that. And Alison, glad to hear this update on your mum.

  17. Ex-prof*

    Hoping for the best for your mom, Alison.

    Yeah, that’s one lie I’d never tell. Say you want to be closer to your relative even if the job’s in Kansas and your relative’s in Korea, sure. Say the relative is ill, no way.

      1. Heather*

        How is it scummy?! There was zero harm done. The company was scummy for trying to intimidate people not to move on to better jobs.

  18. Seeking Second Childhood*

    If you get the job, maybe you’ll be in a position to eliminate that non-compete or at least get it modified to be more reasonable.

  19. Seashell*

    If the same people are still there who would have known about the “terminal illness”, I would worry too much that I would get caught in the lie if I went back. It doesn’t seem worth the risk, especially since it’s not the only job on earth you could take. If the person LW spoke to and anyone that might have found out are gone, it might be a different story.

    1. Someone Else's Boss*

      If someone hasn’t reached out to her once in 11 years to know her Mom is okay, it feels unlikely to me that they’re going to 1) Remember and 2) Ask about it. If I knew someone’s parent was dying 11 years ago, and I saw them today, I wouldn’t think to ask about it. If I later found out their Mom was okay, the most I might do is say, “Oh, I remember when your Mom was sick. I’m so glad to hear she’s still with us!”

  20. Delphine*

    LW, I would personally never open that door again. It doesn’t feel worth it. You took a big risk. Do you really want to add additional risk on top of that?

  21. lovetheblog*

    I’m not on twitter so this was the first update I read. So happy to hear your mom is doing better than expected, Alison!!

  22. ILoveLlamas*

    So many years have passed that I doubt they will dig into the non-compete situation. Just remember to stick to your script and leave it alone. There is an interesting attorney on LinkedIn who rants about the awfulness of non-competes – Jonathan Pollard. I recommend his rantings -:) for those interested in an attorney’s unfiltered thoughts on employment law.

  23. NNT*

    Definitely don’t admit to this- if I were the interviewer and you told me you did this, I would absolutely never hire you. The good news for you is that people generally are very uncomfortable around cancer talk and mortality, so the likelihood that someone is going to press you for details about this is pretty low. If anyone does say anything, keep your answers short and vague- that will almost certainly be read by the other person as you understandably not wanting to talk about a stressful topic- and they don’t really want to talk about it, either. And if you get hired, don’t tell anyone there, ever, that you did this- this is the kind of lie you go down with the ship with. Good luck.

    1. I'm just here for the cats!*

      If anything ever did come up, they could always say that they jumped the gun. That Mom (or mom’s doctor) made it sound very much worse, but she was misdiagnosed or over diagnosed and is expected to be healthy for the years to come.

      1. Jellyfish Catcher*

        No, no details like “misdiagnosis” (of cancer? that makes it more odd/ memorable). Never, ever utter the word “mom” to anyone who is or ever was in that building or company. God speed.

        1. amoeba*

          Eh, I agree on not giving any details, but I would actually prefer to give a very generic “we were super lucky, she’s actually recovered and fine today!” (and then no more details). I’d be waaaay to stressed by having to police my “how was your weekend” style small talk forever at that company otherwise!

  24. Nailed It!*

    If I had a someone who reported to me leave to take care of a terminally ill parent I would remember them. If they came back, I may ask about their mom. If I did ask, I would be nothing but delighted to find out she was still alive (and doing well!) and move on from there. It would never occur to me that you lied to get out of a noncompete.

    1. Myrin*

      Yeah, I’m a pretty cynical person and also have exactly the kind of brain/memory which would have me remember this about OP even 11 years later but I don’t think even I would assume an actual intentional lie behind this.

  25. Jenna Webster*

    I’d be surprised if anyone remembered that, and agree that you should not bring it up. That said, if it does come up, you can definitely just let them know your family is delighted that your Mom made it through.

  26. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    I’m not going to blame you for the lie, because heck I’ve said worse ones to get out of bad situations. Your lie didn’t cause harm to anyone so frankly I’m ok with it.

    Don’t bring it up and if someone does just say ‘oh mum’s doing a lot better now, it wasn’t as bad as the doctors feared’. Yes it’s another untruth but again, what harm is there caused?

    Lying is perfectly okay at times.

    1. Curious*

      The problem i see with that philosophy is that it is destructive of trust. If you believe it is acceptable to lie when you feel you have a good reason, why should I trust anything you say without independent verification?

      Employees are almost always in a weaker economic position relative to their employers. Does that make lies by employees to their boss always justified?

      I realize that unjustified noncompetes are bad, and likely unenforceable, and the use of an unenforceable noncompete as a bludgeon over lower level employees is a sin, and I hope that FTC will make them illegal. But lies show a lack of integrity, and are corrosive of trust.

      1. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

        It’s hard for me to worry about being trusted by organizations that clearly don’t trust me. If the company trusted its employees, it wouldn’t impose an incredibly broad non-compete clause based on the ridiculous claim that they would be doing it major harm if they ever took another job in that field anywhere nearby.

        What the company was actually trying to avoid is anyone leaving for a better-paying job in the area. They’re lying about their motives, because they couldn’t defend “we have a rule against anyone leaving, to keep our payroll down.”

  27. I'm just here for the cats!*

    Well you certainly went all out when you lied. I think it would have been better to say that you needed to move to be closer to your aging parents and be closer to them to ‘help.’

    That wouldn’t have been a total lie. Your parents are aging (as well as we all our), and I’m sure you helped your mom somehow, even if it was to just be closer.

  28. Anon in Canada*

    The notion that noncompetes are a voluntary agreement is pure fiction. If the employer says “you have to sign this or you don’t have a job”, and the practice is so widespread that most employers require the same thing, it’s not a choice.

    Noncompetes used to be only for executives who had access to trade secrets. The crappy job market of the late 2000s and throughout the 2010s allowed them to appear in all sorts of jobs where their very existence is completely bananas. Employers held all the power and wielded it to severely harm workers as state and federal legislators dragged their feet.

    A nationwide ban on noncompetes can’t come quickly enough.

    1. Jessica*

      NDAs, too. In my industry, we saw a lot of companies using NDAs to argue that employees couldn’t go to the police about sexual assault in the workplace.

    2. Massive Dynamic*

      I did not even know that these were a THING until… my 30s? Whenever I first stumbled upon the notion of them on this site? Living in a California bubble over here for sure.

      It just makes no sense – is a company going to keep someone on THEIR payroll through the whole noncompete or do they really expect people to pivot their entire career to a new industry to leave them?

  29. CommanderBanana*

    Asking employees to sign non-competes for low-level nonprofit jobs is bananas. I would not accept a position with an organization that did that. Same with bullshit NDAs or “I promise not to sue you” docs that organizations try to pressure people into signing in order to get severance.

  30. Edward Williams*

    Congratulations AAM. Non-competes, to prevent a person from earning a living, are a vicious unethical practice and should be outlawed. In particular, when an employee who was coerced into signing a non-compete is later fired, the company should never be able to sue. By firing the employee, the ex-employer has said, in deed rather than work, “Your work is worthless.” So they get zero if the ex-employee goes to work for a competitor after being fired.

    1. Ace in the Hole*

      There are plenty of reasons to fire someone other than their work being worthless… for example if they did good work but were prone to violent outbursts at coworkers, or stole from the employer, or stopped showing up to work, etc. If a non-compete clause were reasonable in the first place, it’s still reasonable even if the employee was fired.

      I do agree with you that non-competes should be heavily restricted in terms of who they apply to, what type of work, and how broad they can be. They’re almost always unjustified and exploitative.

  31. CRM*

    Allison – I’m so happy to hear about your mother! It’s amazing that you are getting some more precious time with her.

  32. Anony Mas*

    Honestly, if they insisted on such a restrictive noncompete, I don’t think you should have any qualms about lying to them. Pursue this job guilt-free, and say what Allison suggested. Nobody will press you on it.

  33. B*

    I’m guessing they have never and would never actually attempt to enforce these non-competes, and so it is probably not memorable that they agreed not to enforce yours. I would guess this incident is a total nullity to them 11 years later.

    However! Consider that if you take this job, the lie will always be looming over your head, and you will constantly be a little worried about being discovered. That would simply not be worth it to me.

    1. Sloanicota*

      Yeah, I’m guessing the company has everyone sign so they always *can* hold it over someone’s head, but in general, doesn’t actually want to enforce it either, as it costs money and time (and community goodwill). So they probably don’t remember OP as “that one that got away.” I wonder what, if anything, the ED would have done with the information when they “released” OP officially – probably, zilch. Still, it can change in tight hiring situations, like what happened to nurses who presumably also thought it wouldn’t really be enforced on them.

      1. K in Boston*

        I worked for a company that would never actually *sue* anyone who violated a non-compete, but had its own way of enforcing it outside of the court system.

        My colleague at Company was working with a client who had recently hired an Ex-Employee of Company. HR had told him not to respond to any communications from Ex-Employee, who was specifically hired to help the client deal with Company (along the lines of someone who specializes in Company’s product/service), because their non-compete period hadn’t ended yet. Ex-Employee was basically rendered useless at their job, since Company effectively blacklisted them.

        It sounds like this ED may actually have been willing to sue, but in any case, just wanted to put my two cents out there to the commentariat that there are very much ways that companies can apply their non-competes that have nothing to do with lawyers.

    2. Peanut Hamper*

      The juxtaposition of this comment just below the comment from Anony Mas has me cracking up.

      This job was eleven years ago. They probably don’t even have the employment files from back then. So even if someone did suspect, there would probably be no way to prove it.

      I agree with Anony Mas. Take this job, which you really want, and don’t worry about it. Don’t let the lie “loom over your head”.

    3. Anon in Canada*

      The information that “OP has worked for them before” is almost certainly still on file somewhere*, but the specific lie that OP told when leaving may not be. I think OP should investigate to see if the executive director that she told the lie to is still working there. If he left, then go ahead and apply – the odds of a yet-uncaught lie from 11 years ago coming up are next to nil. Same if he’s still there but not the hiring manager for that position. If that same executive director is the hiring manager for this job, then it could be a lot trickier.

      *Most ATSs ask “have you worked for us before” or some variation of this question in the application, so even if the info is not on file, they will likely know that OP has worked for them before.

      1. Natascha OP*

        Hi, it’s the OP. Yes, the ED is still there. When scheduling the interview I mentioned that I had started my career at the org (I mean, it was on my resume, and presumably that’s part of the reason I’m a candidate: I have tons of relevant experience, including experience with them). During that conversation, the HR person asked why I left and I told the truth: I moved to a different part of the state. I didn’t mention anything, true or false, about my mom at that time. Since my next position after leaving was not in our immediate industry, it might not have raised red flags about the non-compete. Or maybe they don’t have a non-compete any longer.

        FWIW, I had a good reason to think the org would sue me: my lawyer told me so! The org had several active lawsuits in progress at the time of my resignation. I hired a lawyer specifically to advise me on the noncompete because it seemed overwhelmingly punitive, and I was in my mid 20s and that seemed very scary to me! Spending $400 on an attorney to avoid a lawsuit felt worthwhile, esp. when she pointed out, “The contract is not enforceable as written, but the org is litigious. Here are the lawsuits they have going on right now. I advise you to negotiate a way out of this contract. I do not advise you to breach it.”

        1. B*

          Well, I take it back! So often, orgs have these overbroad, punitive, facially unenforceable non-competes just for the chilling effect. Good on you for checking with a lawyer, in my early career I would have just gone ostrich mode on this kind of thing.

          Good luck with the interview process. Realistically, it seems like a really low chance anyone will even think about this.

        2. Anon in Canada*

          Considering how crappy this organization is – they make people sign ridiculously broad and legally invalid noncompetes, and then sue to enforce them even though they know they’ll lose (or at least they should know), and is litigious in general… do you really want to work there again?

          It seems like the kind of organization that’s so awful that one should only even entertain working there if they truly have no other options. If you’re currently employed, why even consider it?

    4. Sparkles McFadden*

      I replied to a comment upthread saying I don’t generally lie because it would be too much trouble to keep track of non-real events. I agree with your mindset, and if it were me I’d almost hope someone actually asked about it right away so I could say “Everything turned out so much better than anyone expected” which can be a true statement anywhere at any time. Otherwise, I might very well just blurt out “My mom’s fine!” apropos of nothing because I’m reminding myself of what I want my response to be if anyone asks about my mom.

      That said: In this case, I don’t think this would be an issue. It’s non-profit which equals high turnover, and it’s been 11 years. I doubt it will come up.

      1. Sloanicota*

        I suppose there’s a version of this where you approach it somewhat directly in the interview: “As you know, I started my career working at X corp, but I left to help a family member back home. Fortunately, they had a better-than-expected outcome, and now here I am.” However, I personally think it’s probably overkill.

        1. amoeba*

          I actually like that version! Not mentioning anything would be scare to me (for the same reasons as Sparkes McFadden…)

  34. t-vex*

    Nonprofit manager here (though in a different field). I’m sure they have so much turnover no one even remembers you, never mind the lie you told as you were leaving.

    1. Natascha OP*

      They DO have a lot of turnover. The ED is still the same, but as far as I know, only one other person I used to work with besides the ED is still around.

  35. KareninHR*

    When I was hired at my company, they tried to get me to sign a similar insanely restrictive non-compete. I knew they had been burned in the past and heard rumors they could be litigious, so while I wanted to work for the company, I was not going to do so if I had to sign the non-compete agreement.

    I enlisted the help of a friend who is an attorney to review the agreement and red line what I was not willing to agree to, and to my surprise, the company agreed! I was able to sign a much more reasonable agreement, and have happily worked here for 3 years now. Similar to OPs story, they are a great organization who just happens to have a crazy non-compete agreement.

  36. Lorgar*

    I had a vaguely similar thing happen to me. My first job out of college was for a medium-sized company that not only had a wildly overreaching non-compete, but regularly fired people, most often for having mental health issues (real or perceived). A combination of being a terrible place to work and going off my medication at the suggestion of a boss (to cover up my mental health issues) meant that I was in an incredibly bad place and needed to leave, but was scared of consequences for doing so.

    I ended up making up a story about a family member having a terminal illness and that I wanted to be there for them. In reality, I was going into a mental health treatment program and then planned on finding new work.

    I’m no longer in the same field, but now that I’m back in the huge city I started in after college, I run into people from time to time who remember me. I don’t proactively bring it up and if I have to talk about my time there, I just say I leave without stating a reason. People usually don’t remember why I left, or if they do, they don’t bring it up. The few times they did, using Allison’s script above has helped – “They’re wonderful, had a better outcome than we expected and we’re hoping they’ll stay healthy.” I imagine I’m talking about myself and it makes it easier to sound relieved and a little bit traumatized over the whole thing (which is true.) I’ve also come to terms with what I did by thinking of it as my one get-out-of-jail-free card: I did what I had to do, now I need to make sure I won’t ever need that card again.

    1. Natascha OP*

      Thanks for relaying this story. It helps me feel less like The Only Person Who Ever Lied to Get Out of an Oppressive Work Thing. You don’t sound like someone I’d judge negatively; your rationale makes sense to me.

      1. Gathering Moss*

        OP, I also know someone who lied about their father being terminally ill in order to leave a company that was well known in my industry for sueing to enforce their non-compete.
        It’s not the most skilful choice, but it hardly makes you irredeemably immoral. You’ve learned better ways of dealing with things since, so I’d accept that you’ve grown, and let go of the shame.

    2. PotsPansTeapots*

      I had to leave a job for mental health reasons and I’m kind of surprised I didn’t lie and say it was a family emergency.

      I like what you said at the end; your lie (and the OP’s) lie were made under a lot of pressure and stress. It doesn’t say very much about your integrity as a whole unless you make it a habit.

  37. rebelwithmouseyhair*

    I had signed a non-compete at my previous job. But I discovered that it was actually null and void. According to the law here in France, it cannot last for more than a year after you stop working at the place, and it only applies to your region. If the company operates nationwide, and you have a role where you operate nationwide, it can apply to the whole country but never beyond the borders (a lot of French people living near a border work in the neighbouring country). Also, to be valid and applicable, the company has to continue to pay a sum of money while the non-compete clause still applies, and the contract has to specify how much you will be paid during that time. And it has to be paid monthly, not just as a lump sum along with your severance. So the vast majority of non-compete clauses are null and void. Mine certainly was, and I poached several clients from my former employer. I did ask them all to remain discreet and not tell my former employer because even if I knew it was null and void, I didn’t want the hassle of a trial.

    1. Sloanicota*

      This is exactly how it should be. 1) the company should have to pay you through the period of noncompete, since they are taking your livelihood – if this was the case, suddenly broad noncompetes of sandwich workers would disappear – and 2) requiring employees to sign a document you KNOW isn’t enforceable under the law, shouldn’t be legal. It hurts only the less-powerful and less-knowledgeable people.

      1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        The sum to be paid is often only a small percentage of the employee’s salary (10% being standard I believe). But employers don’t like having to keep former employees on the books and often just get a random “standard employment contract” off internet without running it past a lawyer, so these null-and-void clauses are still very common.

  38. HonorBox*

    LW, while there is a chance that someone remembers you, might ask about your mom, or that you might slip up and suggest that your mom is coming to town, I think the script Alison shared works well. You were in a position that forced you to make a bad choice many years ago. Given the situation, I’d guess the CEO didn’t document specifics about the choice not to enforce the non-compete, so the only questions you might get would be from people who remember you and express concern. While lying to cover a lie isn’t great, your initial lie was told under duress and smoothing over the situation now is probably the easiest way to go.

  39. Bob-White of the Glen*

    Alison – I am so happy to hear about your mom (tearing up a bit!) So glad for you, but also so happy that cancer treatments do seem to be improving which is great news for everyone.

    Hoping for many more feeling good years with your mom! (And that it is years.)

  40. Dread Pirate Roberts*

    My brother’s girlfriend once got him out of a work trip she didn’t want him to go on by telling his boss that his dad died. I was horrified but also amused … our dad died when he was 3 years old so technically she didn’t lie.

  41. Lucia Pacciola*

    It’s been 14 years. Does the Executive Director still work there? Will he even remember that conversation? Will he care? Will your interviewer even be read into the matter?

    I doubt the ED put your conversation into your permanent record. I doubt your interviewer will even know about it, or care about it if they did know.

    I’ve been re-hired by a company I was fired from, after a few years’ hiatus. You’d think HR would have that red-flagged on my file, but no. I even emailed the HR guy who handled my termination, to see if it was going to be a problem, and he blew me off. Institutional memory probably doesn’t think about you as much as you think about it.

  42. Natascha OP*

    Hi it’s me, the OP. Allison, thank you for your advice, especially because my actions seem very insensitive in light of what your own mother is going through. I’m so glad she’s doing better.

    I know I told an icky lie. I think about it all the time and feel pretty ashamed of myself. I thought about it even before this job opportunity came up. There are a few things I left out of the original letter for the sake of brevity. I have no idea if these details will portray me more favorably or much, much less.

    1. My mom actually WAS dealing with medical issues at the time: she had a failed orthopedic surgery that required numerous revisions. Part of the reason The Lie “worked” was because I had missed about 3 weeks of work that calendar year caring for her, so it wasn’t a huge stretch to say I was moving closer to family. However, her condition was never terminal, and also, I didn’t move to where she lived. :-/ We were concerned she’d lose the ability to walk, but fortunately she didn’t. Even 11 years later, she’s now in her 70s and still mobile.

    2. I know the people at original org (we’ll call it Blood Bank) remember me. The ED is the same. I sit on a board of directors for another nonprofit with one of my former (and maybe future?) colleagues from Blood Bank; he actually wrote me a letter of recommendation to grad school. I’m not self-important enough to think that my personal business is still being talked about at Blood Bank, but I know they remember who I am.

    3. The interview hasn’t happened yet. I plan to ask during the interview if they still require a noncompete. If so, I plan to withdraw my application. I currently have a job that works fine for me. It doesn’t pay very well, and it’s no longer challenging, but I am fortunately not in a position where I NEED to accept a job that comes with problems right out of the gate.

    4. One thing that gives me pause about Blood Bank is that they were, and still are, extremely litigious. This is why the attorney I hired to review the noncompete didn’t simply say “This contract is bonkers, ignore it.” What she said was, “This seems unenforceable, but Blood Bank goes to court A LOT.”

    5. Relatedly, I have no idea if, were The Lie to be discovered, I can be sued for breaching the noncompete (which I technically did, albeit with the ED’s blessing).

    Reading everyone’s comments and reflecting on my past employment with Blood Bank, I am wondering if pursuing this position is even a good idea. I’d like a more satisfying job than the one I have now, but this situation might be inviting disaster.

    1. Jiminy Cricket*

      I really wouldn’t beat yourself up too much. You were trapped in a rotten situation.

      But I do think you’re right to consider whether you want to work for a litigious organization that is willing to trap employees like that again.

    2. Sparkles McFadden*

      The Lie actually makes a lot more sense with that additional context. Even before reading this, I didn’t think you did anything wrong. In a situation where the crazy people have all of the power, the powerless but sane people have to employ crazy-person tactics to get out of the crazy situation. Please go a little easier on yourself!

      I say go for the interview and see what’s what. You’ll be in a better position to decide with more information. If they do ask about your mom, you’ll get to use Alison’s script. Technically, you did not lie because, after all, we’re all terminal. It might help to frame it for yourself that way. Good luck!

    3. Sunflower*

      We are do stupid things in our youth. I had a coworker that did something similar. She said her dad had a heart attack. Then the company asked her for the hospital or her parent’s address because they want to send flowers. She had to confess she lied. She didn’t get fired but nobody trusted her again.

      If it were me, I’d bow out for this position. What if something happens to your mom and you need to be there for real? Something will slip and somebody will remember and it can blow up in your face. Also, do you really want to work for such a company?

    4. Kevin Sours*

      I’m going to be blunt here. I don’t blame you the slightest bit for lying to get out of that situation: noncompetes are garbage intended to reinvent indentured servitude. But I think your instincts are spot on. I don’t know if they can sue you if the Lie were discovered but they could certainly fire you. But more to the point you lied to get away from an aggressively litigious company that wants you to sign probably unenforceable contracts as a condition of employment. What has changed that makes you think this time will be different?

    5. Dawn*

      IANAL but there may also be a statute of limitations in place in your state which limits the window of time within which one can sue for breach of contract.

      1. Dawn*

        And anyway “no ethical consumption under capitalism” etc, you did what you had to in order to get out from under Blood Bank’s morally-and-ethically-wrong-but-legal actions.

    6. Budgie Buddy*

      Thanks for the update – especially for acknowledging the lie was pretty bad. Everyone makes mistakes but being able to do that “Wait that was not good and not the person I want to be” check is how people grow.

      Ugh this company sounds kinda awful in general though. I see why you’re reconsidering. There are definitely problems even apart from them finding out you lied over a decade ago.

    7. Esti*

      OP, how specific/detailed were you originally? Did you say it was cancer or another specific condition, or just “terminally ill”? I don’t blame you for the original lie, but I do think you took a risk there that you maybe shouldn’t tempt fate by revisiting. Since the same ED is still there, I wouldn’t be surprised if they remembered the situation and asked how your mom is. And Alison’s script is a good one and might be the end of it! But if it was me, I would always be just a little worried that one day there’d be a discussion about a cancer charity or other disease-related event (especially because you work in the medical field) and the ED would turn to me a land say “your mom had [whatever disease], right?” Or a coworker who has a family member diagnosed and comes to me because the ED mentioned I’d gone through something similar. And once there are more specific questions, even just “your mother had X disease, right?” or “I know you went through a terminal diagnosis with your mom, do you have any suggestions for how to cope?” it becomes extremely difficult to not have to tell more lies. Even if they shouldn’t bring it up or push for details, shutting down a well meaning coworker (who might be themselves newly diagnosed!) is going to be awkward and potentially relationship-damaging.

      Maybe I’m overthinking it — I’m a mildly anxious person so maybe it wouldn’t hang over you the same way it would me. But having gotten out of the original situation unscathed, I would rather not put myself in a position where it could be reopened. Especially since the employer doesn’t sound like a terrific place to work anyway, and you’re not desperate to leave your current role. The risk/reward calculus just doesn’t seem worth it.

    8. Insert Clever Name Here*

      Yeah, I would consider it a “one and done” with this organization. Even if you can’t be sued for breach of contract (because of a statue of limitations or another reason), you *could* be 1) fired or 2) lose trust to a degree where it doesn’t make sense to keep working there. If you were desperate it would be one thing, but I personally wouldn’t walk into the risk of either of those things for the potential award of a bit more money and more interesting work.

    9. Ann O'Nemity*

      Regarding #1, I can see how the lie “worked” based on this additional context but I actually think that your mom’s very real medical issues could have been enough of an excuse without exaggerating. For example, “As you know my mom has been dealing with significant medical issues, which are still ongoing. In my current position and location, it is difficult for me to provide the care and support that she needs. For these reasons, I would like to discuss the possibility of having the noncompete waived.” Too late now though!

      If you do end up taking the job, don’t dig yourself a deeper hole by lying about some miraculous recovery and adding a bunch of details that could be disproven. Go with something vague like, “My mom had a long and difficult recovery. It’s painful to even think about it now. Thankfully, some of our fears were overblown, and I’m now able to focus on my career goals.” It’s all true – she did have a long and difficult recovery (from her non-terminal issues), it is difficult to think about because it’s your mom and you love her, the fears were overblown (by you), and you are ready to pursue new career opportunities.

      1. Natascha OP*

        Hi Ann. So, I *did* consider just telling the truth. But I was very afraid of the ED saying, “Nope, rules are rules. If you’ll breach it, we will sue you.” And then I would have had to go back to… what? Waiting tables? That’s what I’d been doing through college.

        I want to note that I stayed out of “blood banking” for 3 years after leaving the original org. The promise the ED made me was that he wouldn’t pursue legal action as long a I didn’t work for another “blood bank.” I took a role at a “breast milk bank” from 2012-2015, which was fascinating and educational, but paid terribly. I still utilized my knowledge of donor screening, regulatory processes, serological testing, etc, but in a way that did not compete with Blood Bank at all. Arguably, even *that* move was a violation of the noncompete contract, but Blood Bank’s ED gave me some leeway. In 2015 I reentered “blood banking” in a management role.

        Scare quotes are because I don’t *actually* work in blood banking, but a similar medical/ social services type of organization. I’m pretty sure if I disclosed my actual field people would figure out the organizations I’m referring to.

  43. on the couch, with the cat*

    Cancer treatments can be so amazing. I have friends living with “chronic cancer” who would have been long dead not that long ago. I’m really glad your mother’s doctors found a treatment protocol that is working for her.

    r’fuah sh’leima

  44. Ranon*

    Worth noting for OP and any commenters who haven’t been following this issue but there are states that have banned non competes in the intervening years (as recently as July for Minnesota)- worth a quick Google if it comes up.

  45. Sneaky Squirrel*

    This feels like a Spotlight effect situation – people tend to believe that others are paying more attention to them than they actually are.

    It’s a lot of dot connecting for someone that you worked with over 10 years ago and didn’t stay in touch with to remember who you are (especially given your low stature in organization at the time), your mom’s situation, the fact that you asked to break the non-compete, and that they made an exception. Add that the bigger the organization, the more likely the are to have employees turnover, people ask for the same exceptions, etc… Could someone there remember that? Sure…

    For others questioning why you’d want to work with such a litigious organization; it’s been 10 years. It’s possible they don’t even conduct those non-competes anymore. But if they do and you get the job, definitely push back on it this time around.

    1. Ukdancer*

      Yes 10 years is a long time. I’m pretty sure most people wouldn’t remember why the OP left. I mean I can barely remember people 5 years after they left, let alone 10 years on.

      I’d be surprised if many people even remember the OP being there at all.

  46. Rachel*

    I’m reading a lot of comments about how this lie didn’t hurt anybody and it isn’t that bad.

    This is clumsy, but it’s my attempt to explain why this lie struck me immediately as garish as well as wrong.

    This story was fabricated by this contributor. But it does actually happen. It’s not a complete fiction, it’s a truth, just misapplied. When you are actually in that position, caring for a terminal illness, somebody play acting it just feels really disrespectful.

    This contributor manipulated somebody into doing the right thing but it was still manipulation. I think the comments today are divided between people who have handled really bad news and people who haven’t, because all the people I know who have would never, in a million years, pretend they had it for a job.

    1. Budgie Buddy*


      To me it’s appropriation which is wrong in itself even if there’s too particular direct harm to point to. It’s on the level of faking a disability or pretending to be part of a protected class when you’re not. People who are actually in that situation can’t just put on that identity or trauma and take it off when it suits them.

    2. I should really pick a name*

      Different people react in different ways.
      I don’t think the division exists the way that you’re describing it.

      There are people this bothers, and there are people it doesn’t bother. There are people who have and haven’t handled really bad news in each group.

      There’s nothing wrong with sharing your feelings about the LW’s actions, but I don’t think it’s helpful to assume everyone feels the way that you do.

    3. Kevin Sours*

      The company is using aggressive litigation of dubiously legal contracts to manipulate their employees to stay as a captive workforce at below market wages. So miss me with the “manipulation is bad” take.

    4. Parakeet*

      Extremely odd, and somewhat insulting, to assume that a bunch of strangers have never handled bad news because they disagree with you about how someone handled a sketchy NDA.

    5. Grim*

      “I think the comments today are divided between people who have handled really bad news and people who haven’t” is a bit of a presumptuous thing to say. I’ve been in the situation of dealing with a parent with a terminal diagnosis! It was awful! But I don’t really judge the letter writer for lying to get herself out of an overly harsh contract, and it doesn’t seem to me like there was any harm done. Particularly since she’s clearly reflected on it over the years and says in the comments she feels ashamed about the lie itself, not just regretful now that it’s potentially going to cause a problem for her. Of course, you’re welcome to have your own opinion about the letter writer’s actions, but I don’t think it’s correct to make assumptions about other commentators’ lives based on whether they share your judgement of the letter writer or not.

    6. amoeba*

      Nah, my dad died of cancer and while I’m personally much too superstitious to ever use something like that as a lie, I have nothing but compassion for the situation the LW was in. It’s extremely sad that such a drastic lie was necessary! But it doesn’t feel disrespectful to me at all.

  47. Capt. Liam Shaw*

    You are looking for validation for your lie, and frankly I am not going to give it to you. Frankly it doesn’t matter why you did it.

    Going forward. Do you have any other experience on your resume since you left from company you lied to? If you have other companies listed I don’t think they are going to check it, but you need to be prepared for if they do. Also this is an interview not background check, you may never get to a background check.

    If they ask about why you left before, you are going to have to tell the lie you used before. Maybe play the well Mom actually pulled through card like AAM suggests.

    But honestly, I wouldn’t sweat it until it comes up, if it ever does. 11 years is a long time. They may not even do noncompetes anymore.

    1. Natascha OP*

      Hi, it’s the OP. Liam, I think, but I’m not certain I know what you mean by “Do you have any other experience on your resume since you left from company you lied to? If you have other companies listed I don’t think they are going to check it, but you need to be prepared for if they do.” I do think this raises an important question, so here’s my answer.

      I worked in human milk banking from 2012-2015, after leaving the original org. I returned to blood banking in 2015. So yes, I have years of relevant experience with similar companies.

      I have not lied about my mom to any of those employers. It’s certainly possible for this inconsistency to be found out, but it’s always seemed unlikely to me. Do executive directors at separate organizations really talk to one another about the health of their employees’ parents? I mean, maybe they do, and maybe THAT will be my undoing (which would be fair. I know The Lie was bad).

      1. Capt. Liam Shaw*

        I am talking, how many employers do you have one your resume. If it is the place you lied and your current, that might be a problem. But if it is 4-5, many companies only check the previous employer.

        But I saw your update above. Sounds like you know a lot about the company and the ED is still there. You might just need to pass on this opportunity.

        1. amoeba*

          I don’t see why there would be a problem with them checking anything? Her employment history is completely fine, what would they even want to check? Apart from the fact that she’s literally applying to *the same company*, so… they don’t need to check anything, they already have those records (which are fine)?

  48. Dawn*

    And just to take a slightly different tack from everyone else here, speaking as someone with a chronic illness, our medical technology has advanced significantly in the past 11 years. Even without an “oh my mom was one of the very rare few” excuse, breakthroughs do happen and many diagnoses are much more survivable today than they were when this happened and somebody has to be the person who benefited from a treatment breakthrough.

  49. Coco*

    Aggressive non competes are vile. In 2021 a large animal medical care company came to my city and bought 50% of the local veterinary practices and animal hospitals. All employees had to sign a non compete that upon termination (voluntary or involuntary) they can’t work in any veterinary practice within a 50 miles radius for 5 years. Two years later they are closing all of the practices and hundreds will be left without jobs. But the non complete prevents them from seeking employment elsewhere! So these folks are either leaving the field entirely, or are moving to other cities. Now my city is in a veterinary medicine crisis. People are having to drive 2-3 hours to different cities just for a cat/dog well visit! I’m very lucky that my vet office was not part of this, and remains open. But we have no emergency vet care available. Local and state government officials are trying to fight against this non compete. Who knows how long that could take. In the meantime, your pet better not have an emergency… because if they do they are as good as dead.

    1. anywhere but here*

      I would be incredibly surprised if the non-compete is enforceable now that the org no longer exists in that location.

  50. Addison DeWitt*

    Non-competes are extremely unenforceable legally in Illinois, which means the only enforcement they have is intimidating you about it. I had worked for the same huge phone company at something like four agencies in a row (they had many different divisions each with their own marketing budgets and vendors), and when the dot com let me go, they reminded me that I couldn’t work for the phone company. I just said, you know, I worked for them at Much Larger Agency Than You before I came here, so I’ll guess we’ll sue YOU together about that.

    They sort of coughed and said, “Moving on…”

      1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

        Employers do illegal things All The Time. Sometimes thru ignorance, sometimes not. And those non-competes were presumably legal at some point. I’m pretty sure I signed one sometime in my past.

  51. Jade*

    A lie of that caliber can come back to haunt you. If this company finds out about the lie, you are history. If someone will lie about their mother dying, they will lie about anything. Will you have to sign the same non compete if rehired?

    1. Natascha OP*

      In my defense, lying about something major to retain my ability to earn a living really only indicates I’d lie about something major to continue to earn a living. If I lied unprompted about speaking fluent Welsh when I really don’t, and no one asked, and it’s not like fluency in Welsh was important for the job, *then* that could indicate a pathology.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        You didn’t do anything wrong, but I think Jade is illustrating how the company would react to learning about the lie – this is their limited relationship with you, and in that scope they could find you untrustworthy. Between that and your comment early about them being highly litigious (even if it was over a decade ago, that’s one of those traits that companies don’t shake easily) I’d give serious thought to whether you really want to risk going back here.

        But really, I can’t emphasize enough, what you did wasn’t unethical. It just may have lasting consequences – as would interrupting your career by honoring a noncompete. We all have to make these choices along the way.

        1. Natascha OP*

          Hi Eldritch. I am definitely rethinking my decision to interview with this company at all in light of the comment section. I have no reason to think Blood Bank has gotten less litigious. While my current job is dull and I don’t earn much, I’m able to support myself, and I have a decent work-life balance. The position with Blood Bank would pay a lot more and sounds more interesting, but I think I might immediately feel the dangling specter of Damocles’ sword.

      2. I should really pick a name*

        It’s useful to recognize that some people are going to assume more from the lie than you might want them to.

    2. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      “If someone will lie about their mother dying, they will lie about anything.

      ummm, that’s a bit of a stretch …

  52. vombatus ursinus*

    Great news about your mum, Alison! I hope you are getting to spend lots of good time together <3

  53. And the Skeletons Are ... Part of It*

    Yeah, while I don’t agree with your decision to lie (rather than just go ahead and trust that the noncompete is probably unenforceable), I get why a lot of people would feel pressured to do so (and that the company is far more to blame for such a scummy abuse of power).

    That said, the choice to lie about a family member being terminally ill is uh… WOW.

    That’s in the ballpark of like, lying about having covid in mid-2020. Even people who are really relativistic about fibbing in general would probably consider that a real taboo.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      A ton of people did that, it was incredibly common. Or lied about exposures. Or lied about being vaccinated to avoid the stigma. I don’t support the last one in particular, but to say it was taboo or that people who don’t mind fibbing would find it outrageous is just not aligned with the reality of how common it was.

      1. the bat in the office popcorn machine*

        I hate to be that person, but how do you know it common? Is it common in the same way that I think it’s common for college students to lie about a death in the family to get out of exams? I have no stats for this, but I have anecdotal tales and empirical “data” to this effect. However, this would be one of those things that is common in that it happens and can be expected/suspected, but I don’t think it’s actually widespread and everyday.

  54. Slightly Less Evil Bunny*

    In a typical job situation with no non-compete, an employee could quit a job without having to say anything to their employer about where they were going, correct? You don’t have to tell them you’re taking a higher-paying position at Company X, or are retiring early, or you won the Powerball and will be sailing around the world before buying a chateau in France, or whatever.

    So, would an employee who had signed a non-compete be required to provide that info to their employer when they left? How exactly would that be enforced?

    1. Coverage Associate*

      When the former employer learned that you were working for the competitor, they would sue you and the competitor to stop or limit that work, and for money.

      Re money, others have mentioned that non competes usually come with a bonus or severance, so the old employer would want that back. Depending on the state and other factors, they might get additional money re reputation damage, lost clients, etc. (When a coworker left recently, one client moved its work to a whole other firm, not the old firm and not where my coworker went.)

      As I understand it, courts are very reluctant to order employment relationships. They are unlikely to order someone back to their old job, but they might order them to only work in a certain department or certain location at the new job.

      TLDR: as with most things in the American system, courts won’t make someone follow a contract, eg a non compete, when they only want to break it. They will make the breaker pay money after they have broken it.

  55. Coverage Associate*

    I am seeing some confusion above re NDA v non compete. “NDA” means “non disclosure agreement.” They are binding even when non competes are not binding. Non competes limit what next job an employee can take. An employee could violate a non compete by taking a job, but not violate a NDA if they keep their mouth shut about the old job. And an employee could violate a NDA by, eg, leaking an internal document to the press, even if they stay at the job.

    Example, my last job put bunches of effort into developing billing practices to get through their biggest client’s audits. My current job also does work for that client, and so competes with my old job over the share of work each does. (My state generally does not enforce non competes, even for executive positions.) But It is probably a violation of my NDA from my last job to share with my new job all the billing tips from my last job, especially to share the written manuals with the tips.

    Also, admittedly, lawyers have special limits on non competes as part of our ethics rules, regardless of the state.

  56. Piscera*

    Some people will sue, whether or not they have a legal leg to stand on. I saw a company based in one state, sue a former employee located in a different state over a noncompete agreement that wasn’t enforceable in the employee’s state.

    I sensed that the attorney dealing directly with the company/client was too wimpy to say, look, you do not have a claim against former employee under other state’s law.

  57. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

    My mom got a terminal diagnosis back in 2015, and that diagnosis is still real and still terminal. But she is alive and actually doing pretty well, all things considered. Her disease is simply a very slow metastasizing illness and with really advanced top notch medical care, she is doing well. I hope she makes it well past 2026, though it is not certain. But it is possible. And you could also say that you guys got a second opinion or did clinical trials or something along those lines. Honestly, I also would not bring it up unless asked.

  58. el l*

    Don’t understand why the lie was necessary. Why couldn’t OP just have said, “I want to be closer to my parents” and leave it at that?

    Was that extra fake motivation really the deciding thing that changed their answer from “We’ll enforce the non-compete” to “We’ll let it slide”? Suppose we’ll never know, and what’s done is done, but doubt it.

    Let it be a broader lesson in what I call (Lance) Armstrong Rubric: “When expectations are unreasonable, cheating will occur.”

    1. Dawn*

      It very likely was. When companies are liable to enforce something unreasonable and livelihood-destroying like this in the first place – and by all accounts this company was and did – in order to get them to voluntarily release you requires a reason that would make them look really bad if they didn’t.

  59. the bat in the office popcorn machine*

    >> I am also way too superstitious to ever make up that sort of story, as I am convinced karma would promptly make a loved one sick, but if you aren’t burdened with that kind of superstitious thinking, more power to you.

    This. You could have been vague about being close to aging parents or something – why did it need to be so…extreme? I doubt they would have even checked up on you had you resigned and gotten a new job…

    I think you’ll be fine in general, LW, but I also think being in your 20s is no excuse…you were clever enough to consult a lawyer, something most 20 yr olds wouldn’t do or wouldn’t know how to initiate the process of, so I think it’s just a matter of being extremely non-confrontational or something in that nature. I don’t know. Terminal is just a lot. Even a regular diagnosis would have been fine. Really, I don’t understand.

    1. amoeba*

      “This. You could have been vague about being close to aging parents or something – why did it need to be so…extreme? I doubt they would have even checked up on you had you resigned and gotten a new job…”

      The LW specified in the comments that they got advice from a lawyer and the company was, in fact, known for being extremely litigous and would probably have sued. So yes, very probably, she *did* need to be that extreme. A company like that doesn’t just accept bland excuses like “I’d like to live closer to family”.

  60. triplehiccup*

    when I was young and dumb, I lied about having to quit my job so I could move home for my sick mother. the day I pulled up to my parents’, my mom told me she had breast cancer.

  61. Lab Lady*

    My father was given 2 years to live (4 on the outside) 25 years ago. He’s still doing very well (knock on wood), arguably better than he was 25 years ago because he cleaned up his diet and exercise. These sort of things happen.

  62. NonCompetesStink*

    I had a three week contract that tried to get me to sign a 12 month non-compete when I arrived my first day of work. I refused and engaged in discussions about why it was unreasonable and what they were hoping to gain. It turns out there were two specific companies they were really worried about. I told them I’d agree not to work for those two specific companies for 12 months.

    I’ve had a few other ridiculous non-compete and I try not to sign them. I also lost a long-term contract because of a non-compete when it only became clear they wanted me to do the exact same job as my last job for a product that was clearly a direct competitor. I got an offer as I was raising the issue with their recruiter who told me it was fine, but I was uncomfortable about it and had started consulting an employment lawyer when their CEO said it was too risky and made them withdraw the offer. Alas.

  63. LJ*

    The worst part of this is OP works in social services… You’d think they’d be driven by the mission, but yet they don’t want their employees leaving in case they… Made more money helping the public elsewhere??

  64. TG*

    I wouldn’t come clean now – too late. Just don’t talk about your Mom and if it ever comes up she made a miraculous recovery after a new treatment was given. And never lie again!

  65. tinyhipsterboy*

    I don’t have anything valuable to add, honestly, but non-competes can be ridiculously paranoid. I worked at Auntie Anne’s (the mall pretzel shop) when I was 19 and they full-on required a 2-year non-compete as a condition of employment. No working at a pretzel shop or other place that might make pretzels from scratch for 2 years after leaving the company. Always did seem rather odd lol.

  66. Cynthia*

    I once had a company try to make me sign a non-compete when I was leaving. I politely declined. This company showed a lot of ignorance around norms and laws in my state, which is part of why I was leaving, but that was especially odd to wait until they had zero leverage.

  67. Candi*

    Several years ago on Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s site, she was discussing how many of the provisions in publishing contracts are actually unenforceable, but no one had taken the companies to court and had them proven unenforceable. (The problem was usually money.)

    She compared them to then-fairly-recent tech non-compete cases in New York, where the noncompetes had been ruled unenforceable since they “kept the workers from making a living in their specialty” without assuming an undue burden.

    I think the same applies to this LW’s case.

    Noncompetes that have been upheld:

    Not within 50/100 miles.
    Not with a direct competitor.
    Not with a client.
    No poaching client lists. (The rest of the noncompete in that case was dismissed for being, in layman’s terms, ridiculous.)

  68. Cosmerenaut*

    My previous employer had some bonkers noncompete that tried to prohibit me from working at any company anywhere *in the world* for two years after separation if the company I applied to *may at some point* compete with the company I was leaving. I’m not even sure how that works, I just assume my old boss has a TARDIS and uses it to do petty, punitive legal shenanigans.

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