In the software industry it's very common for employees to sign non-compete contracts as a hiring condition. The contracts generally state that the employee agrees not to accept a job for a year or two with a second company that's similar to the job he's taking with the first company. The point is that the hiring company wants to make sure their new employee doesn't get a bunch of information and knowledge and then immediately take it to a competitor. I'm not a lawyer, but my understanding (based on many conversations with fellow engineers) is that such contracts are not really enforcable in California due to "right to work" laws that prevent contracts from forcing a person to keep a job or to not accept a new one.
Still, regardless of what the law says, I think that a person has an obligation to fulfill an agreement they enter into willingly as long as the other party holds up their end of the bargain. For example, even though Microsoft's suit against Google over "executive poaching" will probably fail, I'm entirely sympathetic to their claim.
SEATTLE (AP) - Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) sued Google Inc. (GOOG) on Tuesday, accusing it of poaching a top executive the search engine company had wooed away to head a new research lab in China.
The Redmond-based software power also sued the executive, Kai-Fu Lee, whose appointment Google trumpeted in a news release announcing the lab's establishment.
In a complaint filed in King County Superior Court in Seattle, Microsoft accused Lee of breaking his 2000 employment contract, in part by taking a job with a direct competitor within a year of leaving the company.
Microsoft also accused Google of "intentionally assisting Lee."
"Accepting such a position with a direct Microsoft competitor like Google violates the narrow noncompetition promise Lee made when he was hired as an executive," Microsoft said in its lawsuit. "Google is fully aware of Lee's promises to Microsoft, but has chosen to ignore them, and has encouraged Lee to violate them."
Even though it's unlikely that the government will enforce the contract, it seems clear based on the article that Lee is violating his promise to Microsoft -- a promise he gave freely when he signed the contract. It's dishonorable to break your word, even if the law won't force you to keep it.