It has been more than 10 years since a former salesman tried to use his copy of Woburn, Mass.-based NewPro's customer list, but executive vice president and COO Dave Normandin remembers it like it was yesterday. The former employee had gone into business for himself and made appointments based on NewPro's list.

Fortunately, as a condition of employment, NewPro has every salesperson and sales manager sign its policies and procedures document, which notes that all leads, manuals, and customer lists are company property. NewPro took the employee to court and a judge upheld the company's right to such proprietary information.

Get Them to Sign Having a non-compete agreement with your employees doesn't guarantee legal victory, though. For example, NewPro's clause forbidding former employees to work within 25 miles of Woburn for one year — although the company actually sells all over New England — has not fared so well. Judges generally refuse to prevent someone from making a living, Normandin explains.

Working with a lawyer to craft a viable non-compete clause or agreement can seem daunting enough, but worrying about how to get employees to sign is what keeps some companies from using this tool.

“Just make it part of hiring practice,” advises Lee Wegner, vice president of ABC Seamless in Fargo, N.D. “They'll sign when they want to work for you.”

Setting Value Even with their limitations, Seth Cammeyer, president and CEO of Improve It Home Remodeling in Columbus, Ohio, believes in non-compete clauses. He abided by one when he and his partner started the company, and he expects his salespeople and sales managers to follow that example. “We just don't want them to take what we taught them and compete in our market,” Cammeyer says. The clause limits former employees from working within 100 miles for two years.

In addition to preventing future competition, says Susan Ellison, co-owner of ABC Inc., a siding and gutter company in Fairbanks, Alaska, the non-compete clause helps create a mindset in salespeople. “You can't sell something unless you value it,” Ellison explains. “This way, we let them know when they're hired that we value what we do and what we produce.”