The Right to Work and Non-Competes in the Security Industry

Those who actively threaten or work against the right to work act against the interests of the security community as a whole

I’d like to discuss the right to work. Security professionals have that right, and unfortunately, from time to time, certain individuals, organizations, or companies try to take that right away. In this piece specifically, I’d like to focus on the issue of non-competes.

I understand that companies have employees sign non-competes. This is a common requirement when beginning employment, whether full-time, contract, or consulting. There is no problem with having employees sign a non-compete, provided that those non-competes are reasonable.

When the non-compete expires, however, the employee has the right to work elsewhere. Holding a former employee hostage by threatening legal action against them when they are within their rights to seek employment elsewhere is simply not okay. Beyond that, not allowing employees to work harms the security field as a whole. How so?  I’d like to share five reasons keeping someone from working harms the security profession as a whole:

1. Petty games:  Security problems are real. Solving those problems requires talented people, carefully planned strategies, well-executed implementations, and the good faith partnership of various different stakeholders. Petty games distract from those very real challenges. They divert energy away from solving important problems and onto dealing with empty threats and frivolous lawsuits. There is perhaps no game more petty than trying to take the right to work away from someone, and it is detrimental to the security profession as a whole.

2. Talent shortage:  It is no secret that there is a talent shortage in the security profession. Given this, keeping people away from areas where they can be productive and help organizations that are desperate for talent is a particularly egregious offense. In addition, it is just bad business practice.  Over time, those employers who hold employees hostage with non-competes get a reputation for doing so.  Not only do they rob other organizations of desperately needed talent, in the end, they rob themselves of that talent as well.

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3. Morale sinker:  When other employees within a security team get word of someone’s right to work being taken away, it is often a morale killer. Nothing will demotivate an employee faster than the feeling of helplessness that results from feeling trapped under the threat of legal action should they choose to look for an opportunity elsewhere. While in the near-term, an employer may be able to retain a few more employees by being litigious, in the long-term, employees that do stay are far less productive, innovative, and energetic than those working for employers who operate fairly and ethically.

4. Fear mongering: Aggressively preventing employees from working elsewhere works to create a culture of fear where people make an effort to fly under the radar. In these types of environments, no one wants to surface issues that need to be surfaced for fear of retribution. The result is that important issues are ignored and remain unaddressed. Management is viewed as authoritarian in these environments, rather than as a partner that can help teams work through big issues, problems, and challenges. The result is that important discussions around these issues, problems, and challenges never happen. A healthy business and a healthy security team within that business make course corrections as team members percolate matters. That can’t happen in a culture of fear, and thus, the team as a whole continues heading in the wrong direction.

5. Culture of selfishness: At the end of the day, when leadership shows employees, through actions, that it wants what is best for them, that message is received loud and clear. When, instead, management radiates a culture of selfishness, that message is also received loud and clear. Keeping employees from pursuing career options elsewhere creates a culture of selfishness that works against motivating employees to take initiative, notice issues, solve problems, and partner with their management. That results in a lower security posture for the business.

The right to work is one of the most fundamental professional rights. This is as true in the security profession as it is in every other profession. Those who actively threaten or work against this right act against the interests of the security community as a whole. No one should be denied the opportunity to pursue their professional dreams.

RelatedWhat a Departure Email Can Teach Us About Security

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Joshua Goldfarb (Twitter: @ananalytical) is currently Director of Product Management at F5. Previously, Josh served as VP, CTO – Emerging Technologies at FireEye and as Chief Security Officer for nPulse Technologies until its acquisition by FireEye. Prior to joining nPulse, Josh worked as an independent consultant, applying his analytical methodology to help enterprises build and enhance their network traffic analysis, security operations, and incident response capabilities to improve their information security postures. He has consulted and advised numerous clients in both the public and private sectors at strategic and tactical levels. Earlier in his career, Josh served as the Chief of Analysis for the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) where he built from the ground up and subsequently ran the network, endpoint, and malware analysis/forensics capabilities for US-CERT.

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