Amazon Stifles Warehouse Workers, Requires 18-Month-Long Non-Compete Agreements

Non-compete agreements are pretty common among highly technical white collar jobs. It's one of the best ways for a company to protect trade secrets from the competition. For example, if you're working for Spacely Sprockets on an new and innovative type of gear that took years to develop, a non-compete agreement would prevent you from jumping ship to Cogswell Cogs and screwing over your former employer. It makes sense, but why is Amazon making even its seasonal warehouse workers sign them?

That's a good question. Here's the deal -- Amazon processes a lot of online orders. Things get especially busy during the holiday season, so it brings on board temporary workers to help fulfill all the additional orders. They're typically paid a few dollars above minimum wage to fetch items off of shelves, box up orders, and other similar tasks. Not exactly white collar stuff, though an Amazon contract obtained by The Verge shows that even temporary warehouse workers aren't exempt from broadly worded non-compete agreements.

Amazon Boxes

Check this out:

During employment and for 18 months after the Separation Date, Employee will not, directly or indirectly, whether on Employee’s own behalf or on behalf of any other entity (for example, as an employee, agent, partner, or consultant), engage in or support the development, manufacture, marketing, or sale of any product or service that competes or is intended to compete with any product or service sold, offered, or otherwise provided by Amazon (or intended to be sold, offered, or otherwise provided by Amazon in the future) that Employee worked on or supported, or about which Employee obtained or received Confidential Information.
This type of thing is becoming more common among low-skilled jobs that don't require much, if any, on-the-job training, and seemingly for no other reason than companies can get away with it, plain and simple. It's something that came to light when it was discovered a few months ago that Jimmy John's had it permanent workers sign non-compete agreements that prevented them from working for another sandwich shop within three miles.

What's unfortunate about Amazon's clause is that temporary workers looking for a job in a tough economy have to choose between earning a paycheck with an overly restrict contract, or try their luck elsewhere. And if they choose to work for Amazon, the clause follows them wherever they go, not just a three-mile radius.

Amazon Box Stack

"Employee recognizes that the restrictions in this section 4 may significantly limit Employee’s future flexibility in many ways," the agreement states in reference to the non-compete agreement and other clauses. "Employee further recognizes that the geographic areas for many of Amazon’s products and services — and, by extension, the geographic areas applicable to certain restrictions in this Section 4 — are extremely broad and in many cases worldwide."

Those who follow the contract to the letter must also present the non-compete agreement to another potential employer. As one seasonal workers points out, if she were to apply at Sam's Club, a subsidiary of Walmart, she'd have to contact Amazon and ask for permission to work there. At that point, it would be up to Sam's Club to hire her and Amazon to give the final say.

What if they don't follow the contract? It isn't known how aggressively Amazon enforces its non-compete agreement for warehouse workers, though it does have a history of pursuing cases against white collar workers.