Seattle area coffee chain barred former baristas from working at nearby cafes

Oct 31, 2019, 5:34 AM | Updated: 5:41 pm

Non-compete agreements are often associated with media or law firm jobs, not necessarily with Seattle coffee shops. So it may be surprising to hear that Seattle area coffee chain Mercurys Coffee was making employees sign them, barring them for 18 months from working at any other coffee shop within a 10-mile radius of one of their locations.

It didn’t go over well with employees to say the least, and this week Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced that Mercurys Coffee will void all of its existing non-compete agreements, arguing that the practice limited employment options and mobility for workers and unfairly limited competition for labor, in violation of the Washington Consumer Protection Act.

The company will also have to pay $50,000 to reimburse the Attorney General’s Office for its attorneys fees and costs associated with the investigation. No free coffee was part of the deal.

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Not only did Mercurys Coffee simply require employees to sign non-compete agreements, they even went so far as to file several lawsuits against workers who found employment at other coffee shops. It’s fair to assume that the employees probably didn’t bother to ask for recommendation letters.

In particular, Mercurys filed suit against a former barista who had made $17 per hour and left for a competitor about one and a half miles away. They also threatened to sue another former employee who left to work at a nearby Starbucks.

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“Non-compete agreements targeting low-wage, hourly employees give companies an unfair advantage at the expense of workers,” Ferguson said. “Any company that makes their employees sign unfair contracts should expect to hear from my office. A coffee shop barista, or any low-wage worker for that matter, should not fear retaliation just for moving to another job that’s better for them.”

Mercurys Coffee has about 120 employees in eight locations across King County, who are now probably much less hesitant about looking for another job.

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Seattle area coffee chain barred former baristas from working at nearby cafes