There’s more to job offers than meets the eye

I just turned down a job offer as a salesperson because they wanted me to sign an agreement saying that I would not work for one of their competitors for six months after leaving the company.

Dear Working Wise: I just turned down a job offer as a salesperson because they wanted me to sign an agreement saying that I would not work for one of their competitors for six months after leaving the company.

This is the first time I’ve been asked to agree to these kinds of terms. Is this something new? What else should I be on the lookout for when negotiating job offers? — Cautious

Dear Cautious: Restrictive covenants like non-solicitation and non-competition are not new, but they are becoming more common as employers try to protect their business interests. For example, most employers wouldn’t want a salesperson taking all their customer contacts with them if they took a job with the competition.

Before you sign any such agreement, I recommend you consult with a lawyer to ensure the employer isn’t trying to restrict your future career options too much. Use the Law Society of Alberta’s free lawyer referral service to find a lawyer who specializes in employment law. Check it out at www.lawsocietyalberta.com.

When considering a job offer, you should also ensure you understand the offer and consider all the terms of employment such as hours, salary and benefits.

Get the offer in writing or take detailed notes of the verbal offer and then e-mail or fax your notes back to the employer for confirmation. Ask the employer to explain anything you don’t understand.

Find out when will you be working and for how long? Will there be any shift work, overtime or travel? Is the overtime paid or unpaid (some professions are exempt from overtime rules)? Will you be required to use your personal vehicle? If so, will you be compensated for mileage and insurance costs related to using your car for business purposes?

What is the salary or wage? Are you eligible for any performance bonuses or commissions? Are there scheduled salary increases and cost-of-living raises or do you have to negotiate each one?

What about health and dental coverage, pensions or retirement savings programs, vacation, sick days, personal days, severance pay, employee wellness programs, vehicle allowance, daily living allowance (if travel is required) and parking?

If you are unsatisfied with the financial compensation being offered, but are still interested in the job, you might want to counter the employer’s offer by suggesting they increase another benefit that does not directly impact their bottom line. For example, ask for an extra week of paid vacation, free parking, a better job title, or see if you can work some hours at home.

Most employers expect you to think about the offer before you decide. Let the employer know that you are very interested in the job, and that you will make a decision within a specific period of time (e.g. three days).

If you are not sure how good the offer is, you can check it against industry standard salaries, benefits and working conditions by:

• Reviewing the Alberta Occupational Profiles available on the Alberta Learning Information Service (ALIS) web site at www.alis.alberta.ca;

• Looking at the Alberta Wage and Salary Survey on the ALIS web site;

• Talking to people you know who work in similar jobs; or

• Checking with your professional association or union.

Careful, once you have accepted the job you will not be able to negotiate for changes to the offer. If you decide to accept the offer, let the employer know that you’re looking forward to getting started.

If you are making a counteroffer, be prepared to explain why you are worth the extra pay or vacation week.

Good luck!

Working Wise is compiled weekly by Charles Strachey, a regional manager with Alberta Employment and Immigration. Work-related questions can be sent to him at charles.strachey@gov.ab.ca. Working Wise is provided for general information only. Help with specific situations is available through Alberta Employment Standards by calling 1-877-427-3731.

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