Noncompete agreements: Good, bad, or indifferent?

by Honolulu Mother

Job hopping helped Silicon Valley thrive. So why do other states restrict it?

This Vox article points to enforcement of noncompete agreements as the villain in the shrinking of Route 128’s hi-tech sector relative to Silicon Valley’s. It also raises concern over the growth of noncompetes in such areas as sandwich making and janitorial services, where the argument that they protect trade secrets is unconvincing.

Does your state support noncompete agreements? Do you have personal experience with them? Do you think they’re a bad thing, a good thing, or a necessary evil when appropriately limited?


132 thoughts on “Noncompete agreements: Good, bad, or indifferent?

  1. Virginia doesn’t blue pencil, so the whole thing gets tossed if it is too far reaching. I think this is good from a policy perspective. It forces companies to narrow them down.

    I have seen so many terrible ones. And I think it is evil to make low level employees sign them. I kind of feel like you should only be bound by an employment non-compete if you also get severance to run concurrently.

    NDAs and non-solicitations should be enough for 99% of employees.

    I do fully support them in the sale of a business.

  2. I was reading something about practices on Wall Street and they mentioned garden leave. If you’re a banker or executive at Goldman Sachs and get an offer from JP Morgan you give your notice and then take six months off while still on Goldman’s payroll with full pay and benefits (but no bonus) while any proprietary information you may have ages. That seems fair – 6 months at full pay and benefits.

    Telling someone at Jimmy Johns or Merry Maids that they can’t work anywhere else for 2 years? That’s just patently ridiculous.

  3. “NDAs and non-solicitations should be enough” – totally agree. I don’t like non-competes and think they should be tossed, like in CA. I wonder, however, if there is an employment lawyers’ lobby that fights against the legislation to limit/throw out noncompetes?

    It’s especially bad for the low-wage workers, but I don’t like it for anyone.

  4. Brief threadjack if I may – there is a family wedding (DH’s cousin) later this year. Cousin was a flower girl in our wedding. Ordinarily we would go and bring the kids, but it is ON THANKSGIVING WEEKEND (Saturday), which is a huge PITA and means that the flights will be 5x more expensive. What would totebaggers do? Going to the wedding location for Thanksgiving is out of the question – we would need to fly Fri-Sun. We could theoretically go without the kids, if my parents come down here for Thanksgiving, and that way we could fly Sat-Sun.

  5. L: If the cousin was the flower girl at your wedding, I would make the effort to attend the wedding with your DS. However, I wouldn’t take the kids unless it was convenient.

  6. L – are you sure the couple really wants you to attend? I had my wedding far from home and was forced (by my mom) to send invitations to certain relatives, but we all full well knew that no one actually expected them to attend. Invitations were sent more our of politeness, obligation, family harmony. I didn’t want to send these invitations at all because I didn’t want my relatives to feel obligated to send a gift when we really didn’t expect them to attend, but acquiesced to my mom.

    My wedding was also Thanksgiving weekend!

  7. I would not go if I didn’t absolutely want to go. Past service as a flower girl means nothing.

    If you actually want a lot of people to attend your wedding, you don’t have it on Thanksgiving weekend.

  8. Agreed with Milo. Someone who was a flower girl is removed from you by half a generation. Unless you actually have a relationship with the bride/groom, I don’t think you need to go.

    I hate flying over Thanksgiving.

  9. On the topic – Completely agree with Kate. Where used for a legit purpose with a limited scope, I have no issue with them. Broadly applied to all sorts of employees – terrible.

  10. Another wedding hijack – we’re (DW & I only, and that’s fine) are invited to the wedding of our next door neighbor (or the neighbors’ daughter). She was ~2 when we moved in and we’ve been good neighbors to each other through the years, friendly but not really more than drinks on the patio once a summer as far as social events, so not close. We gave their kids $$ for HS and they reciprocated. We’re going to give the couple cash. How much?

  11. We have many tech workers in my family and they hate non compete clauses, contracts that bind you to a company for two years etc. One person in my family jumped ship even though he had a bond that prevented him from leaving before two years were up. After years in court, the bond was ruled illegal. He had gone on with his career but it was a relief when it was put to rest.

  12. “I kind of feel like you should only be bound by an employment non-compete if you also get severance to run concurrently.”

    This. It’s kind of like the merger severance/retention packages: we will give you $XX to stay through the merger, and in return, you will stay through the merger. It needs to be a quid pro quo — if you are signing away your rights to look for a better opportunity for some period of time, that should be tied to something more than just “basic criteria for taking job.” 95% of these have nothing to do with protecting actual confidential information and everything to do with avoiding bidding wars for valuable employees.

    DH had to sign one of these as a condition of employment @20 years ago. It was ridiculous — no work anywhere in the industry anywhere in the US for 2 years. It was so ridiculous I told him to go ahead and sign it, because there’s no way a court would enforce that.

  13. brief political break: Kasich is out. Back to your regularly scheduled discussion

  14. My hair cut person (what do you call them these days) left the beauty shop that employed here because they tried to force her to sign a noncompete. She struck out on her own and seems to be doing well.

  15. After years in court, the bond was ruled illegal.

    My understanding is that non competes are almost never enforceable. Part of why Wall Street uses garden leave is because any employee they’d try and enforce a non-compete against can afford afford a lawyer and get it thrown out. It’s more something you’d use to scare a $125k a year software developer with a mortgage.

  16. Louise – that is interesting with the bond. I have never heard of such thing. One basic rule is that you can’t compel someone to work. It is against public policy. I wonder why the company tried it. Was he super specialized/important?

  17. Wow, Mooshi. So it’s really Trump now.

    And I see that the SEAL killed in Iraq was the grandson of Charles Keating, apparently of some sort of savings and loan fame that I was too young to follow.

  18. DH has an 18 month “clawback”. He was given a bonus (much less than 6 figures) when he started at big software firm, and if he leaves before the end of 18 months they will take his bonus back. I’m not sure the mechanics of all that, but he is duly impressed and will wait until 18 months to jump ship.

    I don’t think this is terrifically unfair.

  19. Milo – Here you go:

    In the 1980s, Keating ran American Continental Corporation and the Lincoln Savings and Loan Association, and took advantage of loosened restrictions on banking investments. His enterprises began to suffer financial problems and were investigated by federal regulators. His financial contributions to, and requests for regulatory intervention from five sitting U.S. senators led to those legislators being dubbed the “Keating Five”.

    When Lincoln failed in 1989, it cost the federal government over $3 billion and about 23,000 customers were left with worthless bonds. In the early 1990s, Keating was convicted in both federal and state courts of many counts of fraud, racketeering and conspiracy. He served four and a half years in prison before those convictions were overturned in 1996. In 1999, he pleaded guilty to a more limited set of wire fraud and bankruptcy fraud counts, and was sentenced to the time he had already served. Keating spent his final years in low-profile real estate activities until his death in 2014.”

    The failure of Lincoln Fed was a really big deal at the time.

  20. Fred – $150.

    If everyone’s sick of my boat talk, just let me know and I’ll stop. But I’ve completely replaced my interest in cars with a boat obsession.

    If stock market growth is anemic over the next 15 or 20 years, then I can happily downgrade my trawler yacht plans to this:

    Beneteau is great at offering a lot of boat at competitive prices, and if they bring more of these over from Europe, it will be even cheaper. I also like the easy accessibility of the outboards. I could live on this for a year, with regular retreats to hotels or inns in various ports.

  21. Milo,

    Why not a sail boat? For the same size boat a sail boat has much lower acquisition and running costs than a motor boat.

  22. “DH has an 18 month “clawback”.”

    The other version of that is the multi-year vest, which is popular for options and stock grants, etc. DH gets some stock grants every year on a three-year vesting schedule, which is very clearly designed to make it too expensive for him to go somewhere else. He also now has a limited noncompete on a project they are working on with another company, where each company came up with a list of employees that the other company is not allowed to hire away. No issue with any of those approaches.

    The problem is that those kind of “carrot” approaches are mostly applied to those who have the resources either to challenge a noncompete or sit out the waiting period; OTOH, the folks who don’t have those same resources get the stick of nasty noncompetes.

  23. Rhett – That’s a good question, especially if I’ve started looking this small. But I want to cruise rivers and the ICW, mainly, while also having enough seaworthiness to get around Cape May, for example, across Albermarle Sound, the Great Lakes (and I need to figure out how to get up to Maine).

    Anyway, a sailboat fits the bill, but you’re motoring through just about all of those places, anyway, and when you’re doing the rivers, you have to remove the mast. Also, the keel can be a little dicey in shallow areas. Plenty of people do it, though.

  24. Kate – bond was with a tech company in the home country. But even there the courts ruled them to be illegal. Many employees jumped ship when they came to Silicon Valley :-).

  25. where each company came up with a list of employees that the other company is not allowed to hire away.

    Is that even legal?

    …alleging that their wages were repressed due to alleged agreements between their employers not to hire employees from their competitors…A final approval hearing was held on July 9, 2015.[22] On Wednesday September 2, 2015, Judge Lucy H. Koh signed an order granting Motion for Final Approval of Class Action Settlement. The settlement website stated that Adobe, Apple, Google, and Intel has reached a settlement of $415 million

  26. But I want to cruise rivers and the ICW

    In that book Abundance of Mangos the couple from Canada made it from Toronto to the Caribbean via… the Great Lakes… Hudson River to NYC and then down the ICW to Miami and then across to Grand Bahama and then island hopped. They didn’t seem to have much trouble. Although… now that I think about it, they had a catamaran vs. a monohull so the draft? wasn’t nearly as deep. Maybe a catamaran would work best?

  27. Louise – got it.

    Retention bonuses, RSUs, options, signing bonuses, etc are all good ways to incentive employees to stick around. If a person is important enough for a company to worry about losing someone, they should put their money where their mouth is and use a carrot, not a stick.

  28. Yes, catamarans are very good–spacious and shallow drafts. That’s probably what I would get if I went sailboat.

  29. I kind of feel like you should only be bound by an employment non-compete if you also get severance to run concurrently.

    I fully agree. Too bad you’re chasing toddlers instead of sitting on the bench, Kate; that would be a good judicial precedent.

    I also agree with others that holding noncompetes over the heads of fungible low-level employees to keep them from moving on to better pay is EVIL EVIL EVIL. This is why class actions are a thing.

  30. I agree with the consensus on non-competes. I honestly don’t see the point re entry/low level employees.

  31. One of the higher level managers who was let go had to sign a non compete clause. In order to receive severance she had to sign not only a non compete clause for six months, she was prohibited from contacting for employment her former staff members. The poaching of entire teams of worker bees is more of a problem, than her going to a competitor.

  32. Thanks for the comments on the wedding. We have gone to all the cousin weddings so far on both sides (DH’s sibling, ours of course, then 3 other cousins in the mid-2000s, then one on his side and one on my side in 2013-14) but I agree with the holiday weekend comments esp since they live far away from the rest of the cousins. Maybe we will not go and send a big gift equivalent to one plane ticket, which right now is like $750 (!!!).

  33. “Is that even legal?” — @Rhett, this wasn’t an agreement amongst a mess of companies, or even these two companies. It was a list of critical people on this one project — very advanced-tech stuff that required each company to disclose some highly confidential stuff, and to put one company’s critical employees front and center with the other company’s employees. It’s a very limited list of truly critical employees associated with this one project. I strongly suspect that this one is narrowly-tailored enough to pass muster, given the real sensitivities of the issues involved.

  34. I strongly suspect that this one is narrowly-tailored enough to pass muster, given the real sensitivities of the issues involved.

    Given the 9 figure settlement that Google, Apple etc. paid for doing essentially the same thing… I have my doubts.

  35. LfB,

    Essentially the companies are agreeing to collude to drive down the price of labor. It’s really no different than Aubrey Mclendon agreeing with other oil companies not to bid on oil and gas leases to drive down the price.

  36. Agreements I have worked on always had no poaching clauses for critical employees. Also where the agreements involved provision of specialized services under services agreement, they also had non-poaching clauses. I think, non-poaching clauses (with certain carve-outs) are easier to enforce against companies and seem more equitable as opposed to non-competes.

  37. That being said, I have seen egregious non-compete requirements for really replaceable low level employees.

  38. Dell,

    Then why did Google, Apple, etc. have to pay a 9 figure settlement for their no poaching agreement? Does it all hinge on the scope of the agreement?

  39. Yes. Though an employment lawyer can better opine, but in my case, the employer was like a consulting company, and the employees were revenue generators.

  40. Rhett – I suspect it is because it was anti-competitive behavior that was broad in scope and really had no legitimate business purpose. In Mr. LofB’s case, it makes more sense since they are collaborating and it seems like it is very narrowly tailored with high level employees. It isn’t just a blanket agreement not to go after a competitor’s employees.

  41. Rhett, there is a significant difference in scope between a universal no-poach agreement between three large companies – ‘we won’t hire each other’s employees, period’ – and a specific no-poach agreement between two companies doing a joint project where they’re opening up insider stuff to each other, limited to the key employees involved in the information-sharing and limited in time. Courts haven’t said that noncompetes are illegal per se, just that overbroad ones are unenforceable.

  42. “Essentially the companies are agreeing to collude to drive down the price of labor.”

    @Rhett — For Google/Apple/etc., yes, and that’s why that was illegal. In this case, we’re talking the critical team, for the term of one project — so maybe 20 people all told. Those folks could also choose to go to any one of 100 other competitors at any time — just not this one company. And they have all been well-paid with retention bonuses as well to entice them to stay through the project — so if the companies were trying to drive down their labor costs, they did a pretty poor job of it.

    On the flip side, assume that this agreement is illegal. That means that DH’s company is being asked to open up its advanced tech, including the people who invented it, to a commercial company who can then hire the people, steal the tech, and cut DH’s company out of the equation entirely. If that is the alternative, the only reasonable business decision is for DH’s company to say go blow, we’ll go it alone. So now it takes another decade to turn this great idea into a commercially viable product, because the company with the tech wasn’t able to partner with the guy with the resources to develop it more quickly. In this case, it *helps* invention/trade/the economy/etc. to allow the companies to reach a detente for the period of this project — which includes keeping certain key people from jumping ship for that period of time.

  43. And they have all been well-paid with retention bonuses as well to entice them to stay

    If the bonuses were adequate then they wouldn’t need the anti poaching agreement now would they?

    If that is the alternative, the only reasonable business decision is for DH’s company to say go blow, we’ll go it alone.

    No, the reasonable business decision is for the employees to tell the company to blow and go start Intel. That’s the whole point behind the 128 vs. SV post. If the employees are being fairly compensated with cash and equity they won’t leave. If they aren’t they will.

  44. Although, to be fair, the Traitorous 8 didn’t leave Shockley Semiconductor because of money so much, it was more that William Shockley was an asshole.

  45. We might not be living in 1985, but Christopher Buckley nailed it back in 1999:

    “From writer Christopher Buckley’s “The Donald Goes to Washington,” an imagined inaugural address by Donald Trump, published in the Journal Oct. 21, 1999:

    My fellow Americans,

    This is a great day for me personally. You’re very smart to have voted for me because I’m going to do positive things for this country, starting with this mall I’m looking out over. For starters, I don’t know why this is called a “mall.” Where I come from, New York City—which happens to be the greatest city in the world, and the reason I say that is that I built most of it, and I only build quality, so I think I know what I’m talking about—a mall doesn’t look like this. Where are the shops? I see grass, ponds, an obelisk. This is not Cairo.

  46. We’re probably overdue for another post on whether it’s really worth it to keep talented assholes on board.

  47. Oops, wrong thread.
    FWIW, I would vote “no” on the cousin Thanksgiving weekend wedding and send a nice gift.

    Our Pakistani neighbors, who arranged their son’s upcoming marriage, invited us to the local reception (the actual wedding is being held in another state). The invitation read “Please no boxed gifts,” but not sure whether that means they just want cash. Like Connie Corleone. Also not sure of the appropriate attire for a Muslim reception-but-not-wedding, so may pass on the invitation since we barely know the parents and have never met the son. But it was nice of them to invite us.

  48. Since we’re talking gifts – I just RSVP’d to a 7 year old birthday party with a request for “No Gifts Please – Quinoa’s closet is already overflowing and she has everything she needs!”. While that may be true, I would like to bring Quinoa a gift. I know there are far greater tragedies in the world, but I think it is sad that Quinoa doesn’t get presents from her friends.

  49. Well, shit guys. Someone just drove a Hummer in to a restaurant here causing a massive fire and hurting people. They are reporting that it is a former employer and he hit the restaurant, backed up and did it again. Silver Diner in Tysons for those in this area.

  50. So do you all agree on Milo’s recommendation that we give $150 to the lucky couple? (my 11:11 post)

  51. Fred – That’s assuming you’re going. If not, less. Maybe $100.

    For me, I’d subtract $50 from each figure, as I’m younger and poorer.

  52. @Rhett, the employees can tell the company to blow and go start Intel any time they want to — nothing is keeping from doing that. Or go work for anyone else. The only thing they can’t do is go work for the partner/competitor.

    ITA that said partner/competitor has every incentive to pay the employees ridiculous sums of $$, specifically because they have specialized knowledge they obtained from DH’s employer that would be extremely profitable to the competitor/partner. Which is exactly why DH’s employer would have to be completely idiotic to enter into any kind of joint development effort with said partner/competitor without an *enforceable* anti-poaching agreement. “Hi, competitor, here’s our awesome tech you don’t have (nyah nyah), and here are the most critical people for developing it and the specific roles they play” — are you $#% kidding me? You make that kind of deal, not only do you go out of business, you get slammed with stockholder suits for breach of fiduciary duty.

    Like I said above, I have a big problem with generic noncompetes. Going to work for Employer X should not require you to forfeit your right to get a better deal from Employer Y or Z or anyone else. OTOH, there are circumstances in which a noncompete can be reasonable and appropriate — where the agreements are *advancing* trade and not *restraining* it, and where they impose minimal hardships on the affected employees.

    Remember: the feds need sufficient impact on interstate commerce to justify regulating the conduct of private businesses. An agreement involving a handful of employees for a specific period of time isn’t anywhere close to that level.

  53. Milo,

    I really like that one! It looks great inside and out – I especially like the interior. I assume boats price out like RVs where you’re typically getting 30% off MSRP? So that would price out at ~$250k if you got a good deal?

    That seems like a lot of value for money. To get a house in the kind of locations the boat would go could cost in the millions and it could only ever be in one place. The boat is a lot cheaper and it’s mobile.

  54. Scarlett – no, the one in Tysons next to Crate & Barrel and across the street from Tysons I

  55. @Fred — I give $180 if they’re Jewish ($360 if close friend/relative). Otherwise, I round up or down to $150/200 depending on how close the relationship is. Here I’d probably go $150; OTOH, I rounded up for the recent wedding of my assistant’s son, because she is just freaking awesome and the kids can definitely use the money (they’re in the Milo MC, e.g., the police officer/firefighter/teacher variety, and young and so low on their respective totem poles).

  56. Ada: I just had a 7 year old party where we requested no gifts. Believe me, no need to be sad for Quinoa.
    Here is how it works for my 7 year old—who turned 7 yesterday. At her school, all kids in both 1st grades are invited to the birthday party. That would be nearly 30 gifts for my 7 year old. Way, way too much. Second, my daughter does not like pink, princesses or disney. She likes green, stuffed animals and cars. Her good friends know this and would get her green stuffed turtles driving cars, the other 25 kids would bring pink princess themed gifts that would never get played with and I would just take them all and donate them to cradles to crayons. That is more work for me and more work for the parents who take the effort to select, wrap and schlep a gift to the party.
    Furthermore on the day of the party it is at a venue in the city, first pizza then we go off to the event, then home. Schlepping 30 gifts that will only be donated later make a logistical nightmare for me the day of.
    And finally, we will have a family birthday for my 7 year old, with grandparents, aunts and cousins—-all of whom will bring her gifts. So she will have many, many gifts to open. More than she possibly needs. My request for no gifts for the party with the entire 2 first grades is not to be precious or tote baggy, it is really just practical.

  57. Ada – for a recent birthday party – the guests knew that the birthday boy was a big Pokemon fan, so almost every guest gave him Pokemon cards. He has so many Pokemon cards that he freely sharing them with the same guests (his friends). DS and DD bring home a bunch of cards each day. Now, I have to get plastic card sleeves to corral the cards lying around.
    For the record we did give the kid a Game Stop gift card – he went and purchased more Pokemon. Gifting is hard these days.

  58. So do you all agree on Milo’s recommendation that we give $150 to the lucky couple? (my 11:11 post)

    I’d do $50 and it makes no difference if you are going to the wedding or not.

  59. Milo,

    Also what’s the yearly cost on that boat 10% of the purchase price? Say 25k a year in mooring, maintenance, gas, etc? I head that number used before but I’m not sure how true it is.

  60. Ada – we’ve gotten the no presents a lot lately, especially if it’s not the oldest kid. Around Christmas time we also got a “instead of buying kid a gift, please bring an unwrapped gift for a less fortunate child because our four year old would rather give than receive.” My son’s mind was completely boggled. I tried to do the whole “we’re giving a gift for kids who don’t have as much as you” schtick and then went on to say how we have everything we need and DS responded that he had lots of needs like a blue light saber for example.

  61. For a neighbor’s wedding locally, we’d probably give $100-$150 depending on if we were going, how much we felt they could use the help, and how much we’d decided to give for the high school graduation.

    We haven’t done the no gifts thing, and I’ve brought books to “no gifts” parties because my kids like to give gifts (and attempt to get other gifts for themselves while shopping, which is denied.)

    My 6 year old had a royal meltdown a few weeks ago, loudly yelling, “You’re so mean! I talked to Joshua and his parents buy him anything he wants!” To which my DH and I could only reply, “Well, either Joshua isn’t telling the whole story, or he doesn’t want very much.” Sigh.

  62. Ada, we did something similar when our kids were little and they were still in the stage of inviting the entire daycare room to their parties. We asked for presents to donate. Our kids seemed to enjoy making the donations, and they got so many presents from family that they were overwhelmed.

    If the invitation says no gifts, then don’t bring a gift.

  63. Several of DD’s friends (age 7-8) ask for donations rather than birthday gifts, or for no gifts.

    I don’t mind bringing canned goods or a book, but I usually buy 12 sets of art supplies once or twice a year and use that as everyone’s gift for all parties until I run out. I get a bit frustrated by the very specific requests, like dog toys or infant diapers, that mean I have to make an extra trip to the store to buy some.

    DD and I discussed having her party guests make toys for the animals at the nature reserve, but I did not suggest she refuse gifts.

  64. “My 6 year old had a royal meltdown a few weeks ago, loudly yelling, “You’re so mean! I talked to Joshua and his parents buy him anything he wants!””

    Ahh, the days. DD is still exceptionally fond of variants of that line. My stock response is “wow, sounds like XX has an *awesome* mom. Too bad you’re stuck with me.”

  65. canned goods or a book

    That sounds like the name of a totebag folk music ensemble.

  66. LfB– That’s a standard one around here. “Wow, his parents sound really awesome!” Along with, “Sorry kid, you can’t get rid of me. I’m going to love you and take care of you until you’re grown, and you can be grumpy about it.”

  67. L, do you have the flexibility to return on Monday? If you fly Friday/Monday you’ll avoid the worst of the crowds, and I’d guess you’d also get better pricing on the airfare.

  68. I really don’t know, Rhett, to either question. For pricing, your suggestion seemed a little aggressive to me; then again, if I can extrapolate all the way down to my level, the MSRP might have been around $42, boat show pricing would have been 36/37 (I checked boat shows), and I bargained my one one-year-old demo down to 31. So the 36 would be about 15% off MSRP.

    Just keep in mind that there are a lot of boats that are purchased new and almost never used, and unlike what we’ve talked about on used cars, I think they depreciate fast.

    Gas is too boat- and use-dependent to estimate, and big boats going fast depress me. At top speed, that one’s burning 42 gallons per hour or 1.1 mpg (and marine fuel is about a dollar more per gallon than what you put in your car). When you slow down to minimal planning/cruising, you go all the way up to 1.6 mpg.

    Then mooring depends totally on location. And maintenance depends on whether you’re willing to do anything yourself. Lark would know better, though. I don’t have any sort of feel for owning a large boat with a lot of auxiliary systems, but you’d have to imagine that, just like cars, everything is getting more reliable, at least your engines and generator.

    You could also upgrade to the 49:

  69. Scarlett, re the Pakistani wedding reception, perhaps it’s an opportunity to ask them about their customs.

  70. from the link

    South Asians (in general) cannot be trusted with a gift registry. If a couple is registered at, say, Macy’s, and are registered for a Cuisinart blender, the Desi aunty or uncle might go and get the Black & Decker blender because it’s on sale and it’s more in their budget, and reason “well they need a blender” and completely disregard the fact that Cuisinart blender might just match the couple’s taste & color scheme better.

    Pretty sure this behavior crosses racial and cultural boundaries . . .

  71. My kids might be taking after Finn, but they get really excited about Barnes and Noble gift cards (in any denomination), perhaps partly because DW is always insisting that they only buy at B&N that which is not available at the public library, but their own gift cards give them purchase rights.

    So that’s what I’ve suggested to other parents who have asked for gift ideas, and they usually seem happy to oblige.

  72. LfB – they’re not Jewish, so no need to worry about the chai (life) factor.
    Milo – we are planning to go to both the ceremony & the reception.
    I’ve asked around the office and the number seems to be in the $100-$150 range, also.
    DW is a ‘giver’, gifts being very important to her, so she tends to be on the higher side.
    Unencumbered by others’ input we had started talking about $200, which given what you’ve said would be on the high side. Yes, I’d rather go lower, but I’m not interested about arguing over $50 if she’s adamant about the $200. I’ll let you know.

  73. I have never seen a no-gifts party here, but if I ever suggested one to DD, I would get this same reaction
    “I tried to do the whole “we’re giving a gift for kids who don’t have as much as you” schtick and then went on to say how we have everything we need and DS responded that he had lots of needs like a blue light saber for example.”

    For DD, the entire point of making the effort to have the party is the gifts.

  74. My youngest did kind of the opposite of this the other week — he insisted we needed to get birthday presents for his friends (twins) who’ve been having a difficult home life (aftermath of parents’ divorce) and don’t get b’day parties. I made some noises about “what, presents with no party?!” but gave in quickly because I think he’s right about the difficult home life. So, we traipsed off and spent 45 minutes at the comic book store with him being SO PICKY about what might be suitable.

  75. We’re in the stage where the whole class is invited to the birthday party. The daycare parties have been probably 75% no gifts. I must be very totebaggy because I can’t imagine bringing home 30 birthday gifts. Our house is too small for that many toys at once. We’ve kept birthday parties to just grandparents and then we go to a hotel with a pool for the weekend.

  76. Rodney was kind of like Trump. My kids have discovered The Simpsons, so I watched the episode where he played Mr. Burns’ long-lost son.

  77. I don’t agree with the premise that the 128 downturn and rise of Silicon Valley had a lot to do with noncompete agreements. It is absolutely true that prior to 1990 most of the large tech employers were cradle to grave type places, large enough not to be subject to takeover. In the 90s pensions disappeared, PCs appeared, mergers and bankruptcies happened and employees had to find new positions. But find them they did, except for some older specialized programmers and engineers. Most other technical workers shifted over to companies operating from some other tangentially related knowledge base, and the staff (finance, HR, etc) of course could shift industries. Metro Boston is a small town professionally, and people who like New England and call it home hate to leave. Digital Equipment Corp (note the “Equipment” in the name) employees in various departments still have reunions. The oft merged banks are the same. The alumni hired each other for years, and a younger generation of workers got folded into the “families”.

    I had a strict noncompete/nondisclosure agreement at Big 6 accounting once I made senior manager. Clients who wanted to hire from the accounting firms used to have free rein, subject just to a courtesy call to the partner on the account, but see Lincoln Savings above for abuses that have prevented the moving back and forth (sort of like industry and govt regulatory agencies). In my last position As a senior “temp” I didn’t have one, but when I was asked to work for an old boss at a direct competitor, I declined because the new employer would have required one and when, not if, it didn’t work out long term I would be out to lunch and could not have returned. My boss at the last company bailed to a not quite direct competitor after not getting promoted a couple of times, they let that slide because they were happy to be rid of him, but as soon as he hired one of the old staff they sicced the lawyers on him. Prohibition of staff poaching does get upheld if the agreement is well drafted, and around Massachusetts as I noted above, it is a way of life.

  78. Scarlett – in the home country, the wedding nuptials which involve a religious ceremony many a time are lower key privately held with only close family and friends. There are also a number of pre wedding parties, like the henna ceremony. The reception which involves a meal is a big affair. Unless you are close to the family skipping the religious ceremony is no big deal.

  79. “they get really excited about Barnes and Noble gift cards”


    My kids used to get a lot of Borders gift cards, and we gave a lot of them out too.

    When we found out they would be closing, for a while DS and I went there every Sunday afternoon so he could spend all the cards he’d accumulated.

  80. “I usually buy 12 sets of art supplies once or twice a year and use that as everyone’s gift for all parties until I run out.”

    Sky, I did that too! Only I have boys so it was Lego Bionicles or Nerf Vortex footballs. I loved my present shelf. Wish it worked as well for grownups.

  81. Finn,
    Actually, I already know a bit about the arranged marriage custom, because our DC nanny was also Pakistani and they arranged her daughter’s wedding while she was working for us. So I saw a lot of pictures at various stages. They got married in Pakistan so we were not able to attend. But every single guest at the wedding was also Pakistani (or south Asian, judging from the photos), and wearing traditional garb. I have never seen our next-door neighbors here wearing western clothing.

  82. Total hijack, how long did you wait to allow kids in front seat of car if your state has no guideline?

    Ped and local police officer told me horror stories about airbags crushing kids that were too young.

    FYI, height is now 4’10/4’11

    I would give $150, but possibly $200 if you’re going to attend. Just think of the money you’re saving by living a few hundred miles north of me. The gift would be in the $250-$350 range if you lived downstate.

  83. Lauren, I read recently in Consumer Reports that the front passenger seats are safer than rear seats for newer cars, IIRC, model year 2006 and later. I don’t remember any qualification on that for kids.

    Also, how old are those airbag stories? Back in the 90s, there were problems with airbags being too forceful, and causing serious injury and death. However, since then, many safety advances have been made (e.g., I remember back then car makers were required to set the air bags for a large, unbelted person, and thus were way too forceful for a smaller person wearing seatbelts, but I believe car makers now use sensors to estimate the passenger size, and to adjust the force accordingly). It’s been a while since I’ve heard any stories about death or serious injury from air bags, other than the shrapnel ones.

    I think my DD was about that height when I started letting her sit in the front seat. I really like when she sits up front with me– we have some nice conversations, and I’ll let her pick the music.

  84. Lauren, I also push the front passenger seat back and recline it a bit when DD rides there, unless there’s someone sitting behind her. I think that mitigates against possible injury in the event of a frontal collision.

  85. “Total hijack, how long did you wait to allow kids in front seat of car if your state has no guideline?”

    I think when the youngest was around 7 or 8 we had to resort to a front seat allocation system where one kid got even numbered days, one kid got odd numbers days, and the youngest got days divisible by three.

  86. Cordelia, I adopted your system after you mentioned it previously, and it’s been very helpful.

  87. I’ve let my eldest sit in the front occasionally. When it’s just me with all three kids, it allows me to take my old SUV, which I’m trying to run into the ground sooner than any other car. But it shows no sign of letting up.

  88. Lauren, when my kids are big enough for the seat belts to fit properly without a booster, I’d let them sit in the front.

  89. I love those outfits, but I fear everyone would accuse me of cultural appropriation. Also, they’d point and laugh.

  90. I think those may be what I’ve always wanted in a prom dress too, only I was limited to what I could find at Ala Moana some decades ago. Those are amazing! This is like the costuming for a Bollywood production of Pride and Prejudice:

  91. Where has this been all my life? I need to order it and wear it to every dressy occasion:

  92. Huh. I see the comments to Louise’s post, but my browser shows no link there. I wonder why. Those are beautiful dresses.

    My understanding of the sensor for the airbag in the minivan is just that if it registers something that is more than zero and less than some weight (50 lb? I’d have to check the manual) is turns the airbag off entirely. I understood from somewhere that the airbag comes out at a speed that is dangerous to someone below about 90-100 lbs, but I wonder if that’s old information? When I am carting boxes of documents to the post office and stick them on my passenger seat, the registered weight of them turns off the passenger airbag.

    For now my kids stay in the back. I think the state permits it here at 11 or 12?

  93. Cordelia I thought of you this weeken as my FB feed filled up with prom pics. The two piece dresses were hugely popular in my suburb this year, as well as among my friends’ kids.

  94. BTW – ethnic party attire was gotten tons daring and experimental in the last twenty years. Designers were never heard of when I was growing up but now ethnic wear designers are doing couture creations that are stunning. Fashion design has gained respectability.

  95. Ok, I will start to let her sit in the front. Most of her friends started to sit I front this year, but a few are much taller. She’s mentioned it a few times, so it is probably time.

    I’ll have to add front passenger seat to my 30 day challenge. The rest of my car/trunk is clean, but the passenger seat is full of files and coupons.

  96. AAP recommends all children 13 and under should be in the back.

    However, the most recent research shows that kids 8-12 are likely safer in the front seat – front seats, especially in newer cars.

    This is from 2015:

    “Relative risk of death was lower for restrained children up to age 8 in the rear compared with passengers in the right front seat (RR = 0.27, 95% CI 0.12–0.58 for 0–3 years, RR = 0.55, 95% CI 0.30–0.98 for 4–8 years) but was higher for restrained 9–12-year-old children (RR = 1.83, 95% CI 1.18–2.84). There was no evidence for a difference in risk of death in the rear vs. front seat for occupants ages 13-54


    Results of this study extend prior research on the relative safety of the rear seat compared with the front by examining a more contemporary fleet of vehicles. The rear row is primarily occupied by children and adolescents, but the variable relative risk of death in the rear compared with the front seat for occupants of different age groups highlights the challenges in providing optimal protection to a wide range of rear seat occupants. Findings of an elevated risk of death for rear row occupants, as compared with front row passengers, in the newest model year vehicles provides further evidence that rear seat safety is not keeping pace with advances in the front seat.”

  97. Another way to say the same data: 9-12 year olds are 83% more likely to die in the back seat of the car!

    This is a sacred cow of the car safety people; I don’t see recommendations changing any time soon.

  98. On boats – maintenance costs are surprisingly low, even for older boats. Much lower than car maintenance costs. We have had both sailboats and motorboats, and it’s never the maintenance that gives you heartburn. It’s the marina/mooring fees (and mooring is a pain in the ass, much better to be docked or dry stacks). It’s like paying rent for a place for your boat to live.

    Our oldest has sat in the front seat since he was about 10. He actually prefers the way back of the minivan, but I make him sit up front because I’m finding we need the back for cargo room for all the instruments, the backpacks, the sports equipment…I want a bigger car…

  99. @Lauren: We let DS start sitting in the front this year — 10 yo, just shy of 5′, around 90 lbs. We’d have done it sooner had I known of Ada’s study before now!

  100. “maintenance costs are surprisingly low, even for older boats. Much lower than car maintenance costs.”

    That’s comforting to hear.

    I’ve been slowly working my way through the archived blog of a couple who did the Loop, very slowly and extended into Canada, about 10 years ago in a then-three-year-old trawler they’d bought used. I’m about six months in–we’ve gone from Savannah to Toronto, over and down, and now we’re in the Tennessee River, and the only maintenance problems so far have been a wiped cooling water impeller on the generator, and later the same thing on the main engine (the Canadian Coast Guard gave them a free tow).

    “We have had both sailboats and motorboats,”

    If you ever want to share more, I’m always curious to hear it.

    “and it’s never the maintenance that gives you heartburn. It’s the marina/mooring fees”


  101. Ada’s safety data and especially the last part “…provides further evidence that rear seat safety is not keeping pace with advances in the front seat” is interesting to me because when we were buying DW’s 2015 Audi Q7 I noticed the option for $350 of rear side (door, not head curtain — those it has) airbags and mentioned to the salesman that seemed like a good idea but I hadn’t seen any vehicles listing that as an installed option. He said it was special order because the side airbags were/are dangerous for babies/kids in carseats. I believed him and didn’t look into it any more since we were not interested in ordering a car and waiting 8-12 weeks at least.

    So I think the technology/safety advances exist to reduce the death rate for rear seat occupants, at least on some cars, but it’s not widely deployed.

  102. RMS – From my business trips to India I have several North Indian sets of tunic and bloomers (shalwar khameez) in silk and cotton and use the silk for Western weddings. It is barely fancy enough for a South Asian wedding. I wore the cottons to work on the hottest days of summer, and the European origin folk looked askance, but I was always weird. The Indians and Pakistanis at the office thought it was a sign of good sense and cultural respect. I still wear one top, but usually over dark Western leggings, not over the bloomers or the alternative bottoms, the tight off- white wrapped pants. I also have a formal embroidered silk Kashmiri full length dress coat/jacket. I like to wear it for dressy occasions (not weddings, it is too flashy for a guest) if for no other reason that when someone asks me where I got it, I can say, K-K-K-K-K-Kathmandu.

  103. I love, love, love Indian clothes. I would kill to wear some of those outfits but I think it just looks silly on someone of my very Celtic coloration. How come we got stuck with plaid??? Anyway, I do own some outfits, like a salwar kameez that I bought at an Indian festival a few years ago, but I wear the parts separately to avoid looking like I was trying to be Indian or something.

  104. Speaking of clothes, DD has taken to cutting up my old clothes, attaching ribbon and sequins and making things like scarves. She has a group of friends who work on their creations together. One of the friends has a sewing machine in her house, so play dates are held there. I don’t think any of the girls knows to sew but they use glue guns to attach things. I find it quite amusing.

  105. I didn’t have anything to say about non-competes but appreciate the topic because Mr WCE may be moving to the level where such things are potential issues.

    In Ada’s data on car safety, the confidence intervals are wide and I suspect where you live and the type of accident you would likely experience would make them even wider. Where we live, a bad accident means we’d either be T-boned on the passenger side or have a head on collision from a crossover on a 2 lane highway.

    In other news, a Pop Tart is exactly the same width as the crack between the 1/3 seat and the 2/3 seat in the back of the Honda Odyssey.

  106. It’s true that the confidence intervals are wide, but they do not cross 1.0 and they are statistically significant. So, that means that we may not know how much harm is caused by putting children under eight in the front seat, but we can be confident that there is some harm. Also we do not know how much harm is caused by putting children over eight in the backseat, but we know that there is some harm.

  107. “rear seat safety is not keeping pace with advances in the front seat.”

    That’s pretty much what Consumer Reports said. IIRC, they cited the 2006 model year in the statement about being safer in the front in newer cars.

    “Another way to say the same data: 9-12 year olds are 83% more likely to die in the back seat of the car!”

    I wonder if that controlled for the passenger miles.

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