Cease and Desist Letters and Other Myths

Virginia employers often send tough, strongly worded “cease and desist” letters to former employees who work for a competitor or start a company.

The goal is to scare you.

If you do not comply, they allege you will potentially face dire consequences under penalty of law. Many times, the letter arrives on the stationary of a local law firm. It can be intimidating, unless you already know such letters are probably no scarier than the bogeyman – all depending on the contract.

It reminds me of the cease and desist letters that I could have drafted while watching the State of the Union. For example:

Letter 1 – Dear Mr. President, please cease and desist from making any more “spilled milk” jokes, or risk chirping cricket sounds under penalty of law.

Letter 2 – Dear Majority Leader Cantor, please cease and desist from scowling throughout speeches, or risk freezing your face in a permanent frown under penalty of law.

Letter 3 – Dear Senator Kerry, please cease and desist from playing ice hockey for charity, or risk a bruised, broken nose on national television under penalty of law.

I am waiting to mail these letters, and of course I expect full compliance.  After all, they will be in the form of a cease and desist letter, and those mean business, right? Wrong.

A cease and desist letter from a former employer in Virginia has the same legal effect as the letters mentioned above: none. It is not worth the paper on which it is written – no legal force, no legal obligations, no more real than a fan letter to Justin Bieber.

So what should you do when you receive a cease and desist letter?

Give us a call. We often help Virginia employees develop a strategy to settle a dispute before anything escalates. When you receive a cease and desist letter from an employer or their attorney, we can review it and discuss a potential response.

A cease and desist letter does not have the force of law, but it may hint at future obligations.


Lauren Ellerman
Lauren Ellerman

In 2011, Lauren Ellerman was named "Young Lawyer of the Year" by the Roanoke Bar Association for her work in the community. To speak with Lauren about your personal injury case, contact her at lellerman@frithlawfirm.com.