Signing Internet Noncompetes And Working From Home
By Anne Fisher

(FORTUNE Magazine) – Dear Annie: I've been offered what I think is a great opportunity with an e-commerce startup. The only thing that bothers me is that the company wants me to sign a noncompete agreement that would prohibit me from going to work for any other Internet company for three years after I leave this one (if I do leave). Does this sound reasonable to you? HESITATING

DEAR HESITATING: Actually, no, but much more important, it probably wouldn't sound reasonable to a judge. Says Laura Sack, an employment attorney at Kauff McClain & McGuire in New York City: "Noncompete agreements are a very contentious area right now, and the case law is changing incredibly fast." She points to a case last October in New York (EarthWeb v. Schlack, 99 Civ. 10035) in which Southern District Judge William H. Pauley III threw out an Internet company's attempt to enforce a restrictive covenant similar to yours--with the significant difference that Schlack's deal spanned just one year, not three.

"When measured against...the Internet environment, a one-year hiatus from the work force is several generations, if not an eternity," Judge Pauley wrote, and so the agreement was not "reasonable in scope and duration," as required by law in New York and most other states. It's worth noting that he was so appalled by Schlack's contract that he declined to "blue pencil" it: Judges are allowed to fiddle with the terms of noncompete agreements, but this one was just too far over the top.

Yours may be too. Speak with a lawyer in your home state before you sign anything. Perhaps your new bosses would consider a bit of blue-penciling of their own, limiting your unemployability to a more livable period of time (a month, maybe?) or narrowing their definition of the competition. If not, I'd think twice.

DEAR ANNIE: For reasons that are too complicated to go into, I've found myself unable to keep working at a regular corporate job. This doesn't mean I can't work from home, if I could just use my considerable skills--and my computer--and set my own hours. But how can I find a work-at-home opportunity that is not some kind of envelope-stuffing scam? Please help. I can't be the only one wondering. SWEET PEA

DEAR S.P.: You surely are not. I'm delighted to report that, having gotten this query from maybe 2,000 people in the past three years, I finally have a good answer. First, check out www. This is a screening service that alerts you to legitimate work-at-home jobs only. (No scams allowed.) For a membership fee of $35 a year, you get constantly updated job listings and a lot more. And take a look at another site: It could hook you up with employers like AT&T, J.C. Penney, and Best Western, replete with bennies like paid vacations and dental insurance. Maybe the envelope-stuffing scamsters' days are numbered.

DEAR ANNIE: Every job interview these days seems to include the question "Where do you see yourself in five years?" I got laid off a month ago from a job I'd had (and liked) for 12 years, and my husband walked out on me the following week. I'm an upbeat person, and I have great skills. But, not being too sure where I see myself in five months, this five-year question really throws me. Is there a standard answer? TONGUE-TIED

Dear T.: No, there is no standard answer. In fact, believe it or not, this question--which, as you rightly surmise, is ubiquitous--was designed by some human resources genius to elicit from you a creative riff that would give your inquisitor a glimpse of your True Self. Instead, and not at all surprisingly, it is just making you nervous for no good reason.

Your only recourse is not to take it so literally. Nobody is looking for a precise job description (or address, or marital status) dated March 2005. Still, in the wee small hours of the morning, you must have some thoughts about where you would like your career, and your life, to go. Jot these down, even if they seem kind of nutty (most dreams do). Then, in your next interview, explain how your goals and your prospective employer's might mesh.