Virginia Right-to-Work Law Does Not Mean “Right to Ignore Non-Compete Contract”

Virginia Right-to-Work Law Does Not Mean “Right to Ignore Non-Compete Contract”

Virginia Right-to-Work Law Does Not Mean “Right to Ignore Non-Compete Contract” 150 150 Lauren Ellerman

I love a good explanation.

When I was a kid, my explanations for why I did or didn’t do something were pretty elaborate and creative. My brother was often my excuse – “Brett asked me to do it.” Or, even better “Brett said I could,” as if my twin was the grand boss of family permission.

Virginia employees often have a good – though misplaced – explanation, too, about their non-compete contract when they call to tell us they are leaving their job for another company: “I thought Virginia was a right-to-work state. How can my employer enforce a non-compete?” Clearly, they signed a written employment contract that they either (a) didn’t understand, (b) didn’t think was binding, or (c) didn’t remember signing.

So what is the source of this very common misunderstanding?

Sadly, I blame the government (btw – blaming the government is a fun new trend, but my reason for blame is legit!).

I blame the feds for one simple reason:

Legislation that prohibits employees from being forced to join a union, was coined “RIGHT TO WORK” in the many states where it applies. People, namely employees, recall sometime in their employment past being told about the RIGHT TO WORK Law, and assume, it actually protects their right to work. Of course, it doesn’t.

No such legislation in Virginia exists to protect your right to work.

Laws exist to say you don’t have to join a union and in no way do these fine lines of binding law deal with your employment contract, non-compete, right to work for a competitor etc.

So feds, while I understand the wonderful marketing ploy behind naming your union law “right to work,” I sure wish you hadn’t because I would imagine 90% of the people who have heard of it, or seen the poster in the lunch room, assumes it means something it doesn’t. And then they sign really egregious contracts because they assume the law – the RIGHT TO WORK law – actually protects their right to work.

I think I am going to propose a new catch phrase – VIRGINIA is a NO RIGHT to WORK STATE.  If you sign a contract that says you won’t work for a competitor, you likely have no right to breach that agreement.  No right to work outside of its four corners.

I know it sounds harsh, but if we are going to sign binding legal documents based on misunderstandings of catch phrases or rumors, lets at least invent one that reflects the state of the law.



About the author

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

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