In response to my statement on prohibiting current employees from disclosing proprietary information from their former employers, blog reader Alberto from Sao Palo, Brazil, questioned me on the ethics of hiring from a competitor.
Competitors are the principal, sometimes inevitable, source for talent with industry-specific skills and relevant experiences. At first sight, the proposition of hiring from a competitor sounds quite rational: the recruit may be well-trained at the competitor; he/she may be able to jump-start a new venture and establish a customer-network readily. However, depending on the position your recruit held at the competitor, this attempt might be fraught with problems–ethical and legal.
In today’s competitive marketplace for talent, an employee has a fair right to seek employment with competitors of his/her current employer. However, the loss of a key employee and the fear that the former employee may reveal trade secrets to a new employer may lead to contention between the new and former employers. A recent example: the bitter dispute between Google and Microsoft when Google recruited a Microsoft executive to lead Google’s research initiatives in China.
Essential Considerations for Recruiting from a Competitor
Here are three important guidelines to consider when recruiting from a competitor.
- Take into account the costs of hiring and retaining your new recruit. The recruit is likely to command a premium over his/her benefits with the former employer. Further, if your new recruit will leave a competitor to join your organization, he/she could leave your organization in the future and return to the former employer or transfer to a third organization. What will motivate him/her to continue to stay with your organization on the medium- and long-term?
- During the recruiting process, understand any non-compete or non-disclosure agreements your recruit may have entered with the former employer. Abide by any such commitments—for the duration of the non-compete or non-disclosure agreements, if possible, assign responsibilities that do not conflict with terms of these contracts. Consult legal experts to weigh any potential risks.
- If the recruit had held a key position in the competitor, he/she likely has access to proprietary information or trade secrets of your competitor. Do not solicit any proprietary information about the former employer—this is unethical and may expose you to liability.