Employee contracts stir up trouble but remain unclear

WASHINGTON, DC: Employment contracts - and especially non-compete clauses - continue to be a thorn in the side of PR pros and clients alike, according to several sources surveyed by PRWeek.

WASHINGTON, DC: Employment contracts - and especially non-compete clauses - continue to be a thorn in the side of PR pros and clients alike, according to several sources surveyed by PRWeek.

WASHINGTON, DC: Employment contracts - and especially non-compete clauses - continue to be a thorn in the side of PR pros and clients alike, according to several sources surveyed by PRWeek.

The plight of Phyllis Brotman and her firm, Image Dynamics (ID), serves as a case study of the havoc that ill-defined employment contracts can wreak.

Years ago, one of ID's biggest clients was Black & Decker, a dollars 450,000-per-year account that had been with the firm for eight years. But soon thereafter, B&D account supervisor David Olsen left the agency and took the B&D account with him.

What Olsen failed to take into account was the non-compete clause in his contract, which gave Brotman a window to sue both him and B&D. Earlier this year, the court upheld the contract and ordered Olsen to pay Brotman dollars 350,000 and B&D to pay dollars 650,000.

Given that the case is still on appeal, Brotman hasn't yet received a dime. And while Olsen has since declared bankruptcy, Brotman claims that he continues to do PR work for B&D on the side.

As a result of the lawsuit, Brotman was forced to merge her firm with advertising company Gray Kirk VanSant. 'We couldn't survive without an account the size of Black & Decker,' she explained. 'We could have stayed independent, but we didn't want to go through the pain.'

Still, even in the wake of the high-profile Brotman case, few PR agencies seem to have tightened up or clarified their employment contracts.

Brodeur manager of marketing and communications Jennifer Fiorentino said her firm has a standard non-disclosure agreement with clients, but no safeguards to prevent employees being recruited by clients or by competitors of clients.

O'Keeffe and Company also has no such protections in place. 'My experience would make me a complete hypocrite,' said agency chief Steve O'Keeffe, who was on the receiving end of a lawsuit when he departed Stackig to start his own firm.

When O'Keeffe left, Stackig handed him a list of around 300 companies that he could not solicit - some of which, O'Keeffe claims, were no longer clients. Nevertheless, Stackig sued under the non-compete clause and O'Keeffe was forced to pay dollars 30,000. Additionally, the terms of the contract were extended for an additional year.

'At the time it was devastating, but it was a cheap education,' O'Keeffe said.



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