The General Assembly is considering several bills this session which would prohibit non-compete agreements in employee contracts. Such agreements can be seen as limiting opportunity and discouraging entrepreneurship. On deeper consideration, though, there are vital reasons in our industry for these clauses.
Along with other home care agencies, Companions & Homemakers has long included a narrowly written exclusivity clause in its employee contracts. The clause does not prohibit a caregiver from accepting employment at any time with another home care agency, nor from taking on new clients as a private provider. The restriction applies solely to clients assigned to the caregiver by Companions & Homemakers, and it applies for just six months after employment.
The purpose of the clause is to prevent a caregiver from converting a client of Companions & Homemakers into a private employer, or from taking that client to a competing home care agency. Without such protection, employers are at risk of becoming referral agencies, losing their business to the very people they hired to serve their clients.
Caregiving agencies like ours provide a service both to clients and to the state. We perform comprehensive background checks on all our employees; we match our clients with the most appropriate caregivers for their needs and their location; and we make sure — even on short notice — that our clients are still served if a regular caregiver is not available.
This agency model for home care also provides employees with essential protections, including workers’ compensation, unemployment benefits, and medical insurance, as well as keeping caregivers employed elsewhere when a particular client no longer requires service. It is widely acknowledged that the agency model is the safest and most stable for all parties involved, and we should be wary of changes that might undermine it.
A successful agency must know and understand its caregivers and clients. Work assignments are not made randomly but based on caregiver talents and client needs. We continually monitor those relationships, and often reassign workers when we feel it is in the best interest of both parties. An individual forced to find help on her own has neither our perspective nor the flexibility guaranteed by a large and able staff.
Elimination of narrow exclusivity clauses such as we use would immediately and seriously threaten the operation of every home care agency. Caregivers and clients who were brought together by an agency would be able to negotiate a direct arrangement that cuts out the company which introduced them; and unscrupulous agencies could hire away caregivers who would bring their clients with them.
In short order, an industry which has served our state and its seniors for decades would be in shambles, both clients and caregivers left without protections and without stability. Instead of an established agency, people in need of home care would likely turn to Craig’s List and other doubtful sources to find potential employees.
Providing top-quality care to our clients is our greatest responsibility. To that end, we invest substantially in the requirement, selection, and training of our caregivers. Only by maintaining long-term relationships with clients and caregivers can we hope to recoup our investment. An exclusivity clause promotes those lasting relationships.
Non-compete agreements have been reviewed in court many times; if reasonably limited in their application, they are valid in all labor markets where the law allows them. The public interest is a prime factor in judicial review of non-compete agreements. We strongly believe that the public is best served by preserving an effective, efficient, and privately run home care system. Allowing a very specific and strictly limited exclusivity clause makes that system —and the affordable quality care it alone can provide— possible in Connecticut.
William C. Geiger is Chief Operating Officer of Companions & Homemakers, based in Farmington.
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