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Ulysses101, Lawyer
Category: Canada Law
Satisfied Customers: 3562
Experience:  11 years experience in Canada family law, plus criminal, civil, and employment
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I am an employee of a dance studio, and I teach children.

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Hi there! I am an employee of a dance studio, and I teach children. Several of the parents have invited me over for dinner or coffee, and I would love to take them up on it as I am new in town. However, my boss does not want me socializing with them. What is my legal standing here?
JA: Because employment law varies from place to place, can you tell me what state this is in?
Customer: Alberta canada
JA: Is the employment agreement "at will," union, full time or part time?
Customer: Part time
JA: Anything else you want the lawyer to know before I connect you?
Customer: No just hoping I can make friends haha!

Hello, thank you for the question.

Do you have an employment contract with the employer?

Is this a smallish town, or how would the employer know what you do in your spare time?

Customer: replied 22 days ago.
I do have a contract, and it's a large city.
The dance world is tiny though, and word gets around...

Yes, I can see that.

How long have you been working there?

Does the employment contract say anything about this?

Customer: replied 22 days ago.
Customer: replied 22 days ago.
This is a picture of the relevant section of the contract...

That's an onerous contract. I've never seen a five year "no competition" clause for a part time employee. I gather that you signed the contract.

How do you know that the employer objects to your socializing with the students' families?

Customer: replied 22 days ago.
does it matter? From a legal standpoint, what are my options?
Customer: replied 22 days ago.
the five years is a long time...

You either follow the contract, or you don't and risk being terminated and sued.

The contract is clear that you're to have no communications with the families other than from the place of business, and related only to business, and that you can't even write down a name or phone number in your address book.

The question is, "is this reasonable?". As you observe, the world of dance instruction is small. I also know that it's full of big egos, cut throat business practises, and that it only takes a couple of students and families to make or break one's reputation and standing in the community. Non competition is taken very seriously in the "fine arts" and "performance arts". I've seen equally onerous contracts in the world of horsie dressing and showing, and even in high end hair/nail services.

Naturally, these are the fields where the students/customers are far more loyal to their favourite teacher or stylist than they are to the business name or business owner. Hence these contracts.

You've signed it, and it comes to this: you abide by the terms or you risk being dismissed and / or sued. The question of course is, would they be successful? That depends on the facts. If you socialized, and got half of your employer's students to follow you to your own studio, that's a serious breach. If you run into a parent at Starbucks and they buy your coffee and ask you to join them at the table, that's far less serious of course. And there's everything in between.

If your primary goal here is to socialize in the dance community, ask some other instructors what they think or what they do in your city. If you volunteered to teach dance at a local community center, and met people that way (as well as built up contacts in the community of course) I doubt that your employer could say much about that. You're not charging for your time, thus you aren't in competition.

I know what you want me to say: that this contract is overly restrictive and that your employer shouldn't have any say over what you do in your social time. You're right, the employer shouldn't. And unless or until you go to work for the competition, or open your own studio, or are believed to be teach the students of your "friend families" differently from the rest, you shouldn't have a problem. The contact is of course meant to stop you from poaching students, not meant to act as a restraining order on your social life.

Does that discussion help? What are you ultimately trying to accomplish here?

Customer: replied 22 days ago.
I have a friend whose daughter goes to the dance studio, and the three of us went riding the other day. (Horses) apparently one of the bosses found out and is pissed.
However, she gave me her phone number and reached out to me, not the other way around, and we were hanging around horses, so it had nothing to do with dance. She is having a hard time and needed someone to talk to, is all.

Then the solution is obvious.

You tell your boss "I'm not trying to cultivate relationships with families to take your students away, the contract is clear about that. But if I have to tell people who are trying to be nice to me that I'm not allowed to even speak with them or respond to a call or email outside of work, then you're going to look like a huge jerk. So how do you want to play this?"

I don't think a court would uphold a contract which restricts what you do in your free time, as long as your activities don't paint the employer in a negative light. The contract is meant to prevent you from stealing students. The non competition clause is clear. I think that saying you can't talk to anyone outside of work is overkill and unenforceable.

Having said that, if your employer wants to fire you then they'll make up another reason, right?

Ulysses101 and other Canada Law Specialists are ready to help you
Customer: replied 22 days ago.
okay that's what I thought! It seems unreasonable to restrict my free time like that.
Okay I'll try to keep my head cool if this comes up, thank you.
Customer: replied 22 days ago.
I just don't want to be sued or have my name dragged through the mud...

I appreciate that. But you signed a contract, and now you want out of the "spirit" of it, if not the letter.

Yes, the contract is over the top. But you still signed it and your employer is serious about it. You can't stop the employer from firing you or trying to sue you for its breach.

You're in a tough spot. If you've been with the employer for a bit, it's time to give them an ultimatum that they can't restrict your free time when you're only a part time employee and not doing anything to affect the employer's marketing or reputation.

Good luck, and I hope you find a middle ground. Thank you for the rating and the accept, I appreciate it.