Fast Food

Jimmy John's Issues Noncompete Clause to Its Employees

The lengths to which some companies go to protect their image can sometimes be, well, ridiculous at best. In the olden days, before chefs and foods became trendy and marketable, when mom-and-pop operations staked their claims and reputations on their family name, you found real quality control. Since larger culinary entities began their hostile takeover of American plates and palates, you'll find that quality isn't what it used to be. This has given over to some bizarre corporate paranoia.

It's bad enough that many of these entities barely represent hollow shells of what they purport to be -- Italian food chains that don't salt the pasta water, pizzamakers who want you to stink like their product -- the mind-boggling ideas that get green-lit in corporate boardrooms are at times too much to handle.

The food service industry has routinely been unkind to its employees, especially in these big-box companies. But Jimmy John's latest "idea" to keep itself above its competition, real and/or perceived, is laughable and incredibly sad all at once. Kinda like their J.J. Gargantuan sandwich.

See also: Eat for a Buck at Jimmy John's Customer Appreciation Day

A noncompete clause is usually something you find in the contract of some high-powered executive. It makes sense, like a little agreement where the employee doesn't screw the employer after the employer screws the employee; it legally prevents you from working for a competitor in any capacity, usually for a prescribed period of time and sometimes within a certain geographic area. This would prevent, say, a hotshot lawyer from abandoning one law firm for a better gig at another and taking all of her clients with her. Again, that might sound a little pushy, but it is a sound business practice that protects the integrity of a company after an employee jumps ship.

These agreements, weird as they might be to a noncorporate worker, are usually arrived at after some negotiation takes place. There is a semblance of fairness within the inherent vice of the contractual agreement and usually involves highly paid, highly educated individuals with specialized skill sets, but we're hard-pressed to believe that lower-paid, unskilled laborers are allowed a legal rep present when they sign on to make eight bucks an hour.

When Jimmy John's uses such a clause to prevent its delivery folk and sandwich makers from working for competitors, you gotta ask if this corporate notion has been taken too far. Already reported by the Huffington Post and the New York Times, this is an alarming practice not only for its future employment exclusion for current workers but for its apparent perception of what the "competition" is.

Namely, Jimmy John's posits that any establishment that makes roughly a 10 percent profit from sandwiches within a three-mile radius of any of its brick-and-mortar eateries is a competitor. In other words, if John Doe leaves Jimmy John's for a job down the street in a restaurant with a diverse menu that also happens to enjoy a busy lunch clientele that loves their two or three sandwich offerings in their specials, he'd be in legal trouble with JJ's whether he works the lunch crowd, parks the damned cars in the restaurant's valet, or runs the dishwasher as the kitchen steward.

We're sure the legalities of this are far more complex, but this is becoming a reality as corporate protocol of other chain restaurants -- and that's too disturbing a trend to ignore in this economic climate.

Here's a link to the noncompete agreement via the Huffington Post.

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Abel Folgar