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Halifax Media drops plans requiring employees to sign a two-year, non-compete agreement



female.employee.handcuffed.non_.compete.agreement.jpgHalifax Media Group, the company which recently bought a chain of newspapers known as the New York Times Regional Media Group, has apparently dropped plans to have those employees sign a non-compete agreement which would have kept staffers from working for any competitor for two years after leaving the company.

Jim Romenesko has a great post on Halifax's decision, apparently pushed by Sarasota Herald Tribune publisher Diane McFarlin. according to his post, new employees would be required to sign the contract.

The agreement would have been in effect even if the employee was fired, and would have kept staffers from seeking employment at any media enterprise in any city where the company does business. So newspapers employees couldn't get work on websites, radio or television outlets in addition to any newspapers. And a nepotism policy would have kept related employees from working in the same department, also won't apply, The Poynter Institute's MediaWire has a great post on the implications of the contract.

News of the agreement was a further blow to staffers at papers previously owned by the New York Times, including the Sarasota Herald Tribune, The Ledger in Lakeland and the Gainesville Sun. When news broke unexpectedly last year that the 16 papers in the Regional Media Group were to be sold, employees waited for weeks with little information -- once the sale was finalized, they were notified by email at the end of December whether they still had jobs in the new company.

Then news of the non-compete contract surfaced, squeezing employees already buffeted by uncertainty over their future. The move seemed a brutal way to push staffers into a restrictive agreement with massive benefits for the company and none for the employee.

Tough as it is to work for a small local newspaper, the non-compete would have made it even tougher, forcing those who left the company to choose between leaving the media industry altogether or moving to a city with no Halifax Media outlet.

Non-compete clauses in contracts have been controversial in the television industry, where they are often used to keep on air talent and prominent executives from immediately bolting to a rival employer once their contract ends. But those non-competes are part of a larger contract providing specific windows of employment to the staffer and limiting circumstances by which they can be fired, giving the employee some benefit for the contract they sign.

Halifax executives have yet to return my phone calls and emails regarding their actions, so its tough to know what their thinking is, or what prompted them to drop the requirement. But this raises serious questions about how Halifax intends to run its media empire, which includes six Florida newspapers.

[Last modified: Wednesday, January 11, 2012 7:29am]


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