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Re: NDA Question

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This topic got under my skin a little.  Pleae bear with my rantings.

> I have a question regarding non-disclosure agreements.  Do consulting engineering firms typically ask their employees to sign non-disclosure agreements?

In my experience, they usually do.  And much more, especialy when the state worked in believes in "employment-at-will". 

>If so, what are the primary stipulations in such an agreement.

Stipulations usually address whatever issues the employer's lawyer thinks is important at the time it is presented to you.  Usually, its for patent rights, copyright rights and trade secrets (intellectual rights).  In one place for patents, I was asked to provide a list of patent numbers, and agree that everything else is belongs to them as a condition of employment.  That would include any unpatented ideas I may be developing with my own resources. (Talk about stifling innovation!)  Regarding so-called "trade secrets", such information usually turns out to be public knowledge; but knowing where to look is probably the only real secret.  Another one is that you agree to arbitration to settle disputes between you and your employer, with the panel members picked by the employer and not you.

>I understand that in general, spreadsheets, programs, and other tools developed by the employee (a) on company time and/or (b) with company resources such as computers, etc. are the property of the company.

I believe that's based on a legal principal called "work for hire".  There is some merit to it, but it is unclear as to exactly where the ownership line should be drawn.  That's what lawyers, judges, juries and politicians try to figure out on a case by case basis.

> Are there any other "normal" restrictions that an employer typically imposes upon their engineering employees?

Yes, some don't allow you to moonlight, even if its just to flip hambergers.  Usually the excuse has something to do with professional liability insurance.  If the job involves sales (like VP, Director, etc.), they will ask you to sign a non-compete agreement.  If they decide to make you a shareholder, they may reserve the right to buy back those shares when you leave employment with them at the lower of either their market value or the price you purchased them.  It doesn't matter whether you quit, were fired or laid off.

In government work (I work for NYC), they fortunately don't ask you to sign such things.  But they constantly ask you and your family members to fill out financial disclosure statements, and they have a separate department that has nothing better to do than audit those statements.  When I started, they also asked me for copies of my family's income tax returns going back a few years, which they probably also immediately audited.

In the past, some politicians have viewed being a member of a professional society and a civil servant to be a major conflict of interest and ask you to quit being members as a condition of employment.  There are still some that believe that.  NYC has a unique restriction: an income fee (yes, fee) that is "not to be construed as an income tax" and that applies only to people who work (yeah, work) for New York City (it's called NYC 1127 and is part of the City's Charter).  It's presented to you in an obscure fashion when you accept employment, and you don't find out what it means until the first paycheck arrives.  But on the plus side, the work is usually steady.

Basically, unless you work for yourself, its rare that an employer would not ask you to sign away some of your rights as a condition of employment.  And its pretty hard to refuse, especially if your collecting unemployment.  

If you work for yourself, there are other rights you are often asked to sign away in order to get a contract.  I'll let others on the list describe them.

These workplace restrictions are probably one of the major reasons why people in engineering tell those who are thinking about it as an occupation to go into some other field where one would be better appreciated.  Engineering is actually a very interesting occupation; its the occupational restrictions and intimidating employer policies like these that make it so discouraging.

As to what to do, they are one of those things that you just have to go numb over until your investment in lottery tickets pays off.  Its the price these days of an honest paycheck in America.

<Ranting off>

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